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Northern Cambria team competes in ‘Super Bowl’ of cheerleading

Cheerleading coach Stephanie Small called the Varsity D2 Summit, where her Junior 1 team won a championship title, “pretty much the Super Bowl of all-star cheerleading.”

The annual competition, which was held May 13-15, took place in Reunion, Florida, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Every year, it hosts more than a thousand small gyms with 125 athletes or less from across the country.

This year marked the fourth year Xtreme Cheer Allstars — based in Northern Cambria — has attended the event. The gym took 76 athletes on five different teams. In order to compete, each team needed a “bid,” which can only be obtained upon winning a Varsity-brand competition at that team’s level.

There are six levels of competition at the D2 Summit that designate what skills can be performed in each routine. Level 1 allows only back and front walkovers, for example, while Levels 5 and 6 allow for more advanced stunts and tumbling.

The teams are also divided by age group and size, with categories such as “Senior Small” and “Junior Medium.”

XCA’s Junior 1 team, the “Bombsquad,” won the Level 1 Junior Medium final, beating out 21 other teams in their division. The gym’s Junior 2, Junior 4 and Senior 3 teams placed 13th, third and eighth in their respective categories.

Four out of the five teams that XCA brought to the competition made it to finals, something Small, the gym’s owner, called “a huge accomplishment in itself.”

“In our past four years of going, we’ve only ever had two teams make it to finals, and then this year we had four, so that was more than we’ve had ever,” Small said. “All of our teams did exceptional. It was pretty insane.”

The wins came after a long year of virtual competitions, restricted gym access and various athletes getting exposed to COVID-19. The pandemic often put a wrench in the team’s schedule, causing them to lose out on valuable mat time; group practices are typically held once or twice a week, with tumbling classes and private lessons providing additional practice.

Beth Cessna — whose 10-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, was on the winning Junior 1 team — said one aspect of the pandemic that made things more difficult was the virtual competitions, which prevented XCA from being able to see other groups perform. Cessna said Mackenzie spent anywhere from three to six hours a week training in the weeks leading up to the summit.

The first day of the competition was for preliminaries, with teams competing on the second day if they made it to finals. Cessna said families also attended the competition, either staying on Disney’s resort properties or commuting to the sports complex.

“This team has been pretty solid all season. They definitely worked hard, and they mesh well as a group,” Cessna said. “They just all got along — it was like an extension of their family, I guess.”

Mackenzie, for her part, felt excited about winning, and thinks they might be able to pull it off again next year.

“Some people have missed a practice or two because of (the pandemic), but it doesn’t really matter because some practices, we just tumble,” she said. “I feel like we might be able to win (again).”

Lacretia Wombacher’s 9-year-old daughter,

McKenna, is also on the Junior 1 team and has been cheering with XCA for three years. She said the D2 Summit was a gratifying way for the girls to show off what they’ve been working on all season, despite the COVID-19 protocols.

“I think the biggest struggle was being down there in the heat and the mask, and you had to wear them 24/7,” Wombacher said. “But (Varsity) had it strategically laid out so that everything we did while we were at the ESPN Center was timed perfectly to minimize any type of social distancing contact. It was a smooth process.”

The energy in the room when the Junior 1 team won, Wombacher added, was “just insane.”

“The girls were energetic because they knew that this was their time to shine,” she said. “It was an unreal experience, especially for our girls that are so young to be able to experience such a feat like this.”

Similarly, Small called it “an experience I will never forget.”

“It was absolutely amazing,” Small said. “Our kids were really excited to even place in finals. To even make it to finals alone is a huge accomplishment. I was already proud at that point. But then to place as high as we did — I was super proud of our kids.”

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