STONY POINT – Last January, North Rockland’s cheerleading team had a good, but not great, performance to open the Westchester Cheerleading Invitational.
After the performance, the team huddled for a squad pep talk. One four-year veteran, senior Julia Garrison, led the team in prayer while her best friend, another four-year veteran, Kaitlyn Garvey, led the talk.
The second performance, the one that would determine the tournament’s Grand Champions, was nothing but perfection, the best one the team had performed all year. The type that makes the judges’ jobs in determining the winner an easy one.
“I remember the second we finished our routine and my group brought me down, I just cried,” Garrison said. “I cried the whole bus ride home. I just couldn’t stop.”
Aside from continuing North Rockland’s dominance in the competition by winning it for the third-straight year, it was a fitting way for both her and Garvey, the 2016 Journal News/lohud Rockland Co-Cheerleaders of the Year, to end their high school careers.
“Having the last performance be your best performance is such a great feeling,” Garvey said. “We had such a great routine this year, we had such great coaches, such a great support system. All of our hard work paid off.”
For Garrison and Garvey, who have both been on the varsity team as flyers since their freshman years, the build-up to that moment started before both were in high school.
Both started cheerleading when they were five years old, participating in Pop Warner programs. While many kids at that age will eventually drop the sport, Garrison and Garvey’s passion for it was immediate.
That passion, and the work ethic that comes along with it, was also fueled by the tradition of North Rockland cheerleading.
“Before I was on the team, I remember going to the Westchester County Invitational just to watch them perform,” Garrison said. “My sister used to be on the team; just the hype around it and knowing how good they are, you always just look up to them.”
Along with the passion, both exhibited natural talent even from a young age.
“Thirteen years ago, (Garvey) was one of my first kids on my baby team, and we knew then she would be great. Just her spunk and attitude, she had a great support system and she was a great athlete,” North Rockland head coach Lauren Gould said. “Julia has always been a passionate cheerleader; good or bad, she is giving 100 percent all the time. She is a great athlete, and not all kids are driven like that.” Gould coached Garrison and Garvey under her All-Star cheerleading program at Cheermania, a program based in Stony Point.
In their freshman years, Garrison and Garvey were two of three freshmen to make the varsity team.
By their sophomore years, the team got the opportunity to compete in the National Cheerleaders’ Association’s national high school tournament in Dallas, Texas.
The team didn’t perform its best that year, but did come in third out of six teams in their division.
“It was completely different than any other high school competition that you go to; it’s a packed arena instead of a packed gym, it’s bright lights when you walk out not just gym lights,” Garvey said. “It’s the hype, it’s so different. People are around from all over the United States.”
The next year, with most of the team having been through the experience, they returned and claimed a national title, despite Garrison fighting to perform through injured ankles.
According to both Garrison and Garvey, that moment, which also included the right to the coveted black jackets that the competition gives to the winners, was the highlight of their high school careers.
“I felt like I was so much better; being there, knowing what was coming, we prepared a lot better and were more focused,” Garvey said. “We’re so used to coming around here and being able to go and win competitions, but in Dallas, the teams are different.”
Garrison said she is likely going to attend James Madison University in the fall. She added that she plans to major in biochemistry, potentially becoming a fertility specialist, and also continue cheerleading.
“Since I was young, all I’ve said was ‘I can’t wait to get married and have a kid of my own.’ I just think having a family is important,” Garrison said. “There are people out there who can’t have a family or don’t know why they can’t. Just knowing that I’d be able to help them, it would be nice.”
Garvey is committed to Penn State. While she hopes to continue cheerleading, she also plans on majoring in biomedical engineering and learning more about tissue engineering and stem cells.
Coach Gould, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, is the inspiration for that.
“With her disease and having trouble breathing through her lungs, I want to help her,” Garvey said. “I want to make her a new lung and help out people like her.”
In the meantime, both continue to work at Cheermania under Gould as coaches, something the pair have done together since the eighth grade, potentially training the next generation of North Rockland cheerleaders.
When both leave for college, it will be a bittersweet moment for Gould.
“Julia and Kaitlyn are like my babies; they are like my proteges and my bookends,” she said. “I’ve had the honor of coaching them for so long and they’ve worked so hard for me. They are like my own children.”
The rest of the Journal News/lohud.com first team
Shannon Berrigan Sr., B/F, Clarkstown South
Ciara Carlson, Jr., F, North Rockland
Brianna Geniger, Jr., F, North Rockland
Bridget Genovesi, Jr., F, North Rockland
Olivia Senatore, 8th, B, North Rockland
Melissa Grall, Jr., B, North Rockland
McKenzie Mayer, So., F, Clarkstown North
Madison Reynolds, Jr., B, Pearl River
Emily Sullivan, So. F, Pearl River
Lauren Taccetta, Sr., B/BK, Clarkstown South
Coach of the year: Allison DeRosa, Pearl River. Coaching a team with only one senior, DeRosa guided the Pirates not only to a sectional title, but to a state title in the first-ever state championships, the first title by a Section 1 team.
Casey Bischoff, Sr., BK, Albertus Magnus
Michela DiPietrantonio Sr., B, Nanuet
Kristen Flaherty, Sr., BK, Pearl River
Kayla Gillule, Jr., B/F, Clarkstown South
Anna Hardy, 7th, F, Pearl River
Kelsey Hoag, Jr., B/F, Clarkstown South
Maddie Oakley, Sr., BK, North Rockland
Olivia Piscani, 7th, Pearl River
Beatrice Pratts, Sr. B, Nanuet
Emma Rinaldi, 7th, T, Pearl River
Gabriella Santiago Sr. BK, Nanuet
Julia Sidoti, 8th, B, North Rockland