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Senior captain Izzy Carusone helped the Hand cheerleading team have a historic season that saw the Tigers win their first state title. (Photo courtesy of Izzy Carusone )
Izzy Carusone has been a cheerleader for many years, but she never had to deal with a challenge as big as the one she faced with the Hand cheerleading team this winter. After competing with 20 athletes last season, Hand had just nine cheerleaders on this year’s team, placing an even bigger emphasis on Izzy to lead the Tigers as a senior captain.
“With [fewer] cheerleaders this year, we had to put in a lot of hard work and realize that our scores would probably be scrutinized more harshly, because we had fewer people on the team,” says Izzy. “With fewer girls competing, there is less room to make mistakes, and it’s easier to spot a mistake when there are only nine of us on the floor at a time, as opposed to 20.”
However, that didn’t stop Izzy and her teammates from taking first place at the Class L State Championship. Hand finished with a score of 177.70 points to edge out North Haven (176.40) and claim the first state crown in team history.
“That had to be the best moment of my cheerleading career for sure,” Izzy says. “We did everything right after entering the routine a little nervous. We had never hit our routine on the competition floor this year, and for our first time hitting the routine to be at states was a great feeling. We didn’t know if we won, but I knew we all did our best that day, and that’s all that mattered.”
Izzy started cheering 11 years ago when her mother Carla signed her up for the sport. Carla is now an assistant coach for the Tigers, whose head coach is Licia Ciotti. Izzy leads Hand alongside fellow senior captain Gina Ciotti, Licia Ciotti’s daughter.
“My mom threw me into it when I was younger. I tried every sport like softball, gymnastics, and soccer, but I never had that feeling like I had when I tried cheerleading,” says Izzy. “Being able to perform with all my friends and perfect a routine became so fun for me, and I’ve loved it ever since.”
Coach Ciotti says that it’s been a privilege to work with Izzy throughout the past decade. It means a lot to Ciotti that her daughter and Izzy helped Hand make history by taking the state title.
“They’ve been through it all together, and for them to come full circle and win a state championship with each other is just incredible,” Ciotti says. “They are both going to be missed so much, and Izzy was such a great part of this team.”
Izzy has always competed as a flyer, which is a cheerleader who performs at the top of the stunt. Flyers typically fall from a vertical axis and get caught by the bases.
“I’m best with stunts,” says Izzy. “I take corrections really well, but I think I can work on my tumbling a little bit. Overall, my performance is really solid, and I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at now.”
Izzy has garnered many accolades throughout her high school cheerleading career. Izzy is a four-time All-Southern Connecticut Conference selection and also made the All-State Team all four years. On top of that, Izzy earned All-Academic honors for Hand this year.
“Making it onto the All-State and All-Academic teams this season has to be my greatest accomplishment,” says Izzy. “I take great pride in my grades, and being able to show that I’m a great athlete and student is really awesome.”
Izzy’s grades have earned her an opportunity to potentially cheer in college, while pursuing a degree in nursing. Izzy is deciding between Quinnipiac, LSU, and the University of Tampa.
“I have a lot of family down by LSU, so that is probably my top choice,” she says. “I will have to try out for the cheer team, but it would be an honor to cheer for them. LSU’s athletics are so great, and its cheer team is also great.”
Izzy says that she wants to be a nurse, because she’s always had a passion for helping people.
“I like being the person to help and comfort people with whatever they are going through,” says Izzy. “I’ve had the opportunity to help people with some of the volunteer work I’ve done at the soup kitchen in New Haven. I like seeing people happy.”
Izzy and the Tigers were scheduled to compete at the Team of the Year Championship on March 14 and then the New England Regional Championship on March 21, but both events were canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. Although the season was cut short, Izzy feels tremendous pride about everything that her team achieved this year.
“I think it was the right choice to cancel all public things,” Izzy says. “I know it was tough for a lot of people to go out like that, but we have to think safety first, and I’m still proud of all we accomplished this year.”