Two local cheerleading squads recently distinguished themselves with high finishes in national competition.

The Charlotte Warriors junior varsity cheer team, coached by Deann Zaharuk, finished second nationally and qualified for the global competition to be held Jan. 18-19 in Atlantic City. The Warriors pee-wee team, coached by Candace Scarsella, finished fourth nationally.

The Warriors is a Pop Warner youth football program based in Punta Gorda’s Carmalita Park. Overall, the program includes more than 200 boys and girls.

Both teams practice a total of six hours over three days a week. They started Aug. 1.

The JV squad includes two dozen girls ages 10 to 13, including Scarsella’s daughter, Alyssa. This was Zaharuk’s first year with the Warriors after coaching for five years with the North Port Mustangs. She had moved from North Port to Punta Gorda.

“This was a whole new team for me, a whole new group of girls,” Zaharuk said. “I had to get to know them and what their skills were.”

She and her assistants went to work Aug. 1. Zaharuk was assisted by Jen Huling, Megan Tuck, Jessica Sylver, Ashley Parker, Heather Kassay and Ashley Bradshaw.

The Peace River Cheer and Dance Competition in Fort Myers the weekend of Nov. 1 was the first rung in the ladder. The JayVees won it while grabbing the top spot in choreography along the way.

The routines last 2 minutes, 30 seconds, and consist of building pyramids, dancing and gymnastic tumbling. Nothing is left to chance.

“We know what the judges are looking for,” Zaharuk said. “In each discipline we’re out to maximize points. How many points can we get in pyramid? What do we have to do to get a 10 dance, the jump sequences, the stunts?

“The judges like to see a good flow. They like to feel your energy.”

Energy and execution took the JayVees to another first-place finish in the regional competition over the Thanksgiving weekend in Orlando. They went on to finish second in the national competition, also in Orlando.

“I knew when I first met them last summer that they had potential,” Zaharuk said. “Ten girls were returning, so it was a matter of putting the work in. They definitely worked together as a team and made it work. I’m very proud of them.”

The pee wees — 19 girls ages 9 to 12 — worked equally hard under Scarsella.

They finished third in the local Peace River competition to qualify for regionals, which include the entire state of Florida and half of Georgia. They finished second among 12 teams at that one, and then capped it off with the fourth at nationals.

“This is the first year they competed,” she said. “A lot were on noncompeting teams last year, and a lot were new. This was a really exceptional group of girls.”

Scarsella said none of it would have been possible without support from the community.

“It takes a lot of fundraising,” she said. “The community really came together and helped a lot. The parents are so supportive. They’re the team behind the team behind the team.”

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