Flashback Friday is looking back at the top moments from the 2017-18 athletic year at the College of Staten Island. This week, we continue with the countdown and look at CSI Cheerleading and their meteoric rise back to the top. In March the team topped all participating schools at the CUNYAC Championship for the third time in their history.
#8 – CSI Cheerleading takes home CUNYAC Championship
Date: March 8, 2018
Who: CSI Cheerleading Squad
Where: York College Gym – Jamaica, NY
What Happened: In front of a crowded house at York College in early-March, Cheerleading earned top honors, taking home the CUNYAC Championship after a great performance against a selection of five conference schools. It was CSI’s first Cheer Championship since 2012 and their third overall. Their first-ever Cheer Championship was in 2003. The Dolphins scored 76.2 points in the team competition and In addition to the team competition, CSI earned gold in stunt and tumbling. Junior Alyssa Dunn narrowly won the tumbling title with 17.2 points, and teamed up with Malay’ja Heard, Alexandra Diodato, Dayana Dunac and Kayla Staiano to knock off their opposition in stunt.
Q&A…with Kristie Perrotta
Kristie, you took over the CSI Cheer program in mid-September without a lot of time to prepare. What was the mindset going into your first season as coach? Honestly, our goal was to simply rebuild the program. We wanted to get Cheer to support the rest of athletics and to go out in the community and be recognized as part of the department. We knew that the Championship was all the way in March and so we didn’t have any grand expectations going in. We just wanted to make the program worthy of being a part of.
During the first few weeks with tryouts and getting prepared, what were some of the challenges the team faced this season? I guess coming in as a new coach you also have the challenge of having a balance of different kids on the team. You have your returners who aren’t that familiar with you and weren’t sure of my approach, and then we had some new kids who you want to mold into great characters on the team. So, it’s a challenge bringing all those people together, and the coaching staff as well, but you could see in the first few practices despite it being challenging that there was a family atmosphere and a lot of positive things happening.
To get the team properly prepared, you definitely needed to funnel a lot of responsibility to your assistant coaches and captains. Tell me a little bit about how important they were to the process? My assistants are my right and left hands and feet, having three of them who were nationally competitive cheerleaders has helped me immensely, especially knowing how to coach collegiately. I have always been a high school coach and the college season is completely different and having them there with me was incredibly helpful. Because they still cheered up until a couple of years ago, it was easy for them to step in when we did drills as well. As far as our captains, they were so motivated. They saw the potential right away and what we could accomplish and they could see the outcomes and so they really drove that home to the new athletes on the team.
The Cheer team uses the basketball season as a backdrop to its practice season. How helpful is it to the team to have competitive programs and having a lot of fans in attendance getting to watch you perform as well? It helps them develop confidence in themselves for sure. Not just standing on the sidelines but getting out on the court performing at halftime or in-between games gave us so much more confidence going into the competition. I remember on Dolphin Pride Night being able to perform between games. It really didn’t go well for us that night, it was a very tough performance, but it needed to happen so that when we did go out there with a lot on the line we were fully ready. It’s important for that to happen before competing.
It’s no secret that you had a very young group this year and a lot of new faces. How much effort did they have to put in to make sure you guys would be prepared for the championship? We had a lot of new faces but thankfully many of them came from competitive high school teams so they knew what it would take to be successful and so many of them became leaders of our team from day one. Sometimes they wanted to do more than even we as coaches felt comfortable doing. It made it so much easier for us as coaches as we went during the year. From day one they were willing to try anything.
Cheer is so intense because a whole season of work gets wrapped up in just a 2-3 minute performance. Tell me about how that performance gets choreographed and comes together? Being this was my first year, as coaches, we really had to figure out what road we wanted to take with our final routine. Should we do a very difficult routine or one we knew that we could execute a bit better? In the end, we opted to try a routine that we felt would come out clean. It was difficult enough to be challenging but, especially in year one, we wanted to make sure our team would be ready to do a good job on the floor. As years go on, many of the actual cheers stay the same but we will incorporate more and more difficult stunts and tumbling to enhance the challenge. I really wish the NCAA would recognize Cheer as a sport, simply so we could compete more, even if it was just two or three more so that it lets us work on perfecting our routine more.
Going into the Championship did you like your chances? I was nervous. We hadn’t competed in the Championship for many years, but I felt as the season went along we got more and more confident and that started to build up the pressure because I felt like teams were then specifically out to beat us. There is no season really in cheerleading, so it’s not like we can go out and see our competition. So when you get to the Championship, you just never know what to expect. At our team pep rally when we performed our routine, we did it very well, and I think that built up a lot of our confidence. So I think I knew we would do well, but I was still very nervous.
Obviously, no one on the team this year was there when CSI last won in 2012, so the championship experience must have been new and exciting. Can you explain the feelings that came with winning the title? I’ve been coaching cheer for 18 years and I have never won a championship. I can’t even explain it, it was all just a blur. Unfortunately, I knew before it was announced that we had won, but to see the kids sitting there nervous and wondering was something to see. They knew they did well but they still weren’t sure how we would score and then to see all of them and their reactions…it was just amazing. We won the team championship, but to win three out of the four individual championships too? I couldn’t have imagined it in my wildest dreams.
For you personally, how great of an accomplishment was it to come in the way you did and work with this group and actually win a championship in your first year? I still go back to the fact that it wasn’t a goal to win anything, just to rebuild and see what we can do. Now that we have done it, it’ s going to be about building on this past season, I was humbled by the team and the way they accepted me as their coach and the staff. They all say how there is a such a positive energy around the team, and that means a lot to me. As coaches, we may be critical and practice is hard but they know it is making them better individually and as a team.
Of course, winning is great, but it puts that much more pressure on you next year to keep the performance level high. What can you tell me about the future of CSI Cheerleading and some of your goals moving forward? My goals are to continue to grow the program so that maybe we can compete at other levels, regionally and nationally.. I can say that this offseason the number of emails I have received that have people wanting to join the team has been more than ever. We only lost two seniors and we are returning a large group. I have so many who know what it is like to have me as a coach and I want to now build on that and get depth to our team and grow our numbers. It is a great time to be a part of the team and I am looking forward to the future.