Fox Chapel Area cheerleaders qualify for national cheerleading competition

The Fox Chapel Area High School cheerleaders have reason to be happy.

For the first time in school history, the varsity cheerleading team earned the opportunity to compete at the 2023 National High School Cheerleading Championship at Disney World on February 10-12.

“They were screaming in December when they saw that they were given money,” said head coach Aleta Balcer. “All the score sheets we got last year (from the competition) we just poured over the judges’ comments and worked from there.”

Senior Isabella Stipetich described the upcoming competition as a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ that she will remember forever.

“Cheerleading this year has been one of the best years I’ve ever had. “This team means a lot to me, especially since it is one of the last competitions where the seniors will be happy together,” said Stipetich.

Fox Chapel Area High School cheerleaders are headed to the National High School Cheerleading Championship at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 10-12.

Each team participating in the high school cheerleading division had to qualify and compete in the regional competition in 2022.

The NHSCC started in 1980 and was created to reward cheerleaders for their work on the sideline and to provide a place to showcase their talents and abilities.

Fox Chapel Area will compete in the junior varsity non-collegiate division. The girls are practicing as much as they can between the commitments of the game.

“It’s a really fast, hip-hop style,” Balcer said of the style organized by assistant coach Krista Zotolla, FCAHS 2019 graduate.

Krista’s mother Shelley Zottola rounds out the team’s leadership team as an assistant coach.

Fox Chapel Area High School cheerleader Isabella Stipetich does a flip during practice on Jan. 2 in the high school gym. She and other cheerleaders are scheduled to compete in the 2023 National High School Cheerleading Championship in February.

Judging the process includes difficulty and execution of cheer, pyramid, jumping, dancing, friends of friends, crowd management and general performance.

“I am very happy to have this opportunity to compete in football with my team. This team has grown tremendously throughout the year, and I’m proud of the progress we’ve made. “This is a big job for us because it’s our first time going to nationals,” said senior Kathryn Billings.

Billings is a member of the championship team as are fellow seniors Anna Li and Isabella Stipetich; juniors Fiona Brown, Mia Pietropaolo and Sophia River; sophomores Maurena Cilenti, Mary Ann Frauenholz, Gretchen Shelestak and Alexandra Vita and freshmen Catherine Conway, Trista Jackson and Emma Kurtz.

The Fox Chapel Area High School cheerleaders practice for their upcoming performance at the National High School Cheerleading Championship at Disney World on February 10-12. video: @hanz_joyce @VNDNews @TribLIVE @FCASD @FoxChapelHerald

— Joyce Hanz (@hanz_joyce) January 9, 2023

Representing the district as a cheerleader takes dedication and commitment, said happy parent Cherie Lauric River of Indiana Township, whose daughter, Sophia, is on the team.

“These girls are committed to practicing two or three hours every night throughout the year from one game to the next, including the summer. This group of young women gave hours, time and effort and most of all, discipline, so that they could become citizens of the country. It was encouraging to see the coaches and players pushing themselves to the next level to achieve this goal,” said River.

Senior Anna Li has celebrated with friends Billings and Stipetich since seventh grade. Li described their journey as ‘crazy’ as the three seniors prepare for the competition.

“The amount of work and growth I’ve seen over the years has progressed to a competitive level. I am proud and grateful to all my colleagues who have worked so hard to get to where we are now,” said Li.

The tournament will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

Watch local titles for broadcast on ESPN on February 10-12.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joyce by email at or on Twitter.

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