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12/08/2022 09:24 AM

Branford Youth Cheer D14 Squad Heading to Nationals

Following successful showings at the state and regional level of competition, the Branford Youth Cheerleading D14 team is heading to Nationals this month in Florida. Photo courtesy of Diana Vaicunas
The Branford Youth Cheerleading program’s D14 squad is heading to the American Youth Cheer Nationals competition that runs from Wednesday, Dec. 7 until Sunday, Dec. 11 in Florida this month after placing in the top 3 at their regional competition. Photo courtesy of Diana Vaicunas

The Branford Youth Cheerleading (BYC) program’s D14 team has worked exceptionally hard all season long and accomplished many goals along the way. The team is now being rewarded for the efforts with a trip to the National Championship for its age group.

The D14 cheer squad will be competing on the national stage at the American Youth Cheer Nationals competition that runs from Wednesday, Dec. 7 until Sunday, Dec. 11 in Florida. The Hornets will be competing in the D14 Small Level 2 Division of the competition against up to 27 other teams.

Branford will compete on Saturday, Dec. 10, and if they place in the Top 5 then, they will advance to the final championship “Super Sunday’’ round the following day to compete for the crown. The D14 team, who won a state title last season, reached the national tier this year by first placing runner-up out of five teams at a local competition prior to coming in third out of eight teams at the state level in November. They finally completed the fantastic feat of qualifying for Nationals after coming in third out of 13 squads at the Regional competition.

“We have some girls who were new to the sport this year, so to teach them new things and grasp them, they’ve worked so hard,” said Head Coach Diana Vaicunas, whose D14 club previously qualified for Nationals in 2017. “To do a two minute-30 second routine and execute it so flawlessly, they exceeded expectations with their performance. As coaches, we are super impressed with the kids, as it is hard to place Top 3 at Regionals to qualify for Nationals.”

BYC has enabled athletes from 1st to 8th grade to come together, discover what it means to become a team, and become better cheerleaders. Along with being a competitive program, the BYC is also striving to continue being a squad full of spirit and inspiration for the town and local athletic community.

The BYC is split up into four age divisions, ranging from D8 to D14. Diana Vaicunas is at the helm of the D14 team as its head coach after the same squad also placed runner-up out of 11 teams at the Global competition a year ago. All in all, there are 81 athletes who are participating in the BYC program this year.

Along with her role as the D14 coach, Vaicunas is also the president of the BYC and has been the head coach for seven years, while being assisted by two talented assistants in Oriana Orsini and Katy Gomes. “I could not do all of this without my assistant coaches,” said Vaicunas. “They are awesome, and the three of us work as a team.”

Every athlete in the BYC has cheered the Hornets on throughout the sidelines during Branford Youth Football games. Last year, the BYC’s D12 and D14 teams both won state championships.

Taking a moment to bask in the afterglow of simply reaching this level of competition, Vaicunas proclaimed that she is just so proud of her group for locking in on not only their individual jobs and routines but also clamping down on a key component of club camaraderie.

“This is a driven, talented group of girls. We gave them the choreography, and they executed it,” said Vaicunas. “They have worked their butts off, and they are each other’s biggest cheerleader. We have also built team bonding with a lot of get-togethers. It is a true team sport; if one person is not there, the pyramid doesn’t go up. They’ve worked so hard and deserve this.”

Branford has had a short turnaround to accomplish all of the logistics when it comes to making its trek to Florida to pursue national title aspirations. As the Hornets focus more on the mat, they know based on their body of work, they have what it takes to get the job done.

“We qualified on Nov. 19 and will fly down on Dec. 7, so there has been a lot of fundraising to help with trip costs. We also have to schedule rental cars, practice times, etc. We also have to keep practicing to keep our momentum,” said Vaicunas. “Nationals is always our end goal. The girls have the mindset that they are proud of themselves, as they should be. They are excited to get there and confident in their routine.”

The complete roster of the D14 team includes Angelina Biehl, Mikenna Leigh, Nicole Wells, Lila Long, Isabella Arnold, Olivia Gwiazda, Cassie Mckittrick, Brooke Clark, Sarah Nardini, Devina Vaicunas, Caleigh Moran, Grayce Gomes, Olivia Gagner, Ava Glick, Guilianna Gambardella, Jane Voets, and Alanah Duncan.