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Nazareth cheerleading makes school history

Nazareth Academy took fifth place in its division at the National Cheerleading Competition in Orlando. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The cheerleaders at Nazareth Academy High School have had a lot to cheer about this year.

The Pandas’ soccer team, playing in its first year in the Catholic League, advanced all the way to the PCL finals, something nobody would have predicted in August.

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The golf team emerged as the best in the Catholic League, winning the school’s first PCL championship about two months after the school officially joined the league.

And the basketball team is enjoying a great run. It’s slated to play in the Catholic League semifinals this week.

But the team that might have had the best season of them all was the cheerleading squad that finished fifth overall, not in the PCL, not in the state, but in the nation in the small varsity non-tumbling D11 division.

Coach Emily Tschopp and seniors Angelina Vassallo, Alexis Greenwood and Kacey Kennedy helped the Pandas enjoy a very successful trip to Orlando.

“To be a part of a nationally ranked team means everything to me,” said Vassallo, a Fox Chase native who is also involved in Pandas Stand Up (a club in memory of alum Morgan McCaffery, who was killed in a domestic violence incident), Cancer Awareness Club, Naz-a-thon, Athletes Helping Athletes and Yearbook Club. “It is what every kid that plays a sport dreams about. I have been cheering since I was 3 years old. What started out as fun has turned into a passion and I feel so honored to have been part of this talented team. 

“Our small little team faced many challenges this year. Three weeks ago we had to revamp our entire routine but we overcame the setbacks. I cannot wait to come back next year to support my girls.”

The future is bright.

A lot of that is because this year’s team had such great leadership.

That wasn’t just unique of the 12th-graders.

“This team has so much drive and fight,” said Greenwood, a Bensalem native who also stars on the Pandas softball squad. “There were huge changes just three weeks before nationals, and this team was able to come together and work as hard as we could to make a routine possible. Despite feeling doubtful, and experiencing ups and downs, everyone gave it their all the whole season and that’s what makes it special.”

The entire trip was special.

Obviously a chance to cheer in Disney with the best in the nation is quite an experience. But it was more than just competing or even finishing among the top five.

The glory was great, but the friendships made will last a lifetime.

“I would be so excited to go to practice every day because I would get to see my best friends,” said Kennedy, a Holland native who is also a member of Naz-a-thon and Pandas Stand Up as well as working as a cheerleading coach at the Newtown Athletic Club. “I also loved cheering at Nazareth because us and the other teams in the Northeast have such a special connection. 

“Each team in the Northeast would be cheering each other on at every competition and we all wanted to see each other succeed. This program has taught me discipline, self-worth and the true meaning of teamwork and friendship. I wouldn’t trade my experience on this team for the world.”

The sisterhood shared by all the girls in the Northeast is special. St. Hubert and Archbishop Ryan also had great runs at nationals. But seeing their teammates win was probably the best part of the trip for the girls.

“The feeling of finding out we made it straight through to finals was something I’d want to experience a million times again,” Greenwood said. “Although I’ve personally made it to finals before, this time was extremely special to me because it has never happened before in Nazareth history, and I got to watch my friends become finalists for the first time. Everyone’s hard work and dedication paid off in that moment.”

The memories will last. So will the friendships.

“Cheering for Nazareth was so special to me since I got to continue to cheer with some of my closest friends and teammates from my grade school, St. Albert the Great,” said Vassallo, who hopes to major in criminal justice and cheer in college, though she’s unsure where she’ll end up. “The long hours and countless practices have bonded us together and I couldn’t be more grateful for our close friendships. These girls are like family to me.”

“Through the hard times and long practices, we stuck together, believed in ourselves and each other. Cheerleading not only made us teammates but sisters. Since we are together daily for months we have become a close-knit family.”

“I am proud to leave this team with such a legacy of being a nationally ranked cheerleading team,” said Kennedy, who wants to major in elementary and special education next year. “Our goal was to go down to nationals and make a name for ourselves and that is exactly what we did. I cannot wait to see what other amazing things this team accomplishes.”

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