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North Haven cheerleading senior captain Sarina Sandwell was the inaugural recipient of the SCC Coaches Merit Award for her efforts on the mat, in the classroom, and in her community. (Photo courtesy of Sarina Sandwell )
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When the North Haven cheerleading team claimed first place at the Southern Connecticut Conference Championship, one of its athletes received a major distinction that was presented for the first time. Based on a vote of the SCC’s coaches, senior captain Sarina Sandwell earned the Coaches Merit Award that will be annually issued to a cheerleader who exemplifies strong character, while excelling athletically, academically, and in the community. Sarina says it’s a huge honor that she was the inaugural recipient of the award.
“When my coach told me I was nominated, I was honored, because I try really hard to keep everything in my life balanced. I try to work hard in school, in sports season, and also do community service. I don’t just want to focus my attention on one thing,” Sarina says. “When I won the award, I was surprised because, whenever I do something, I try to not make it about myself. When I got it, it felt nice all those things paid off in a sense.”
Head Coach Kathleen Crisafi was thrilled that Sarina received the Coaches Merit Award from the SCC. Crisafi says that Sarina is not only a great athlete, but also a tremendous person who’s always there to support her teammates.
“Sarina encompasses all that you would want in a student-athlete. Her presence on the mat will be hard to replace. She is an extremely talented athlete that gives 110 percent at all times,” Coach Crisafi says. “Sarina always encourages her teammates to excel. She acknowledges and celebrates all of their accomplishments. She is a quality individual with outstanding character and high personal standards, and she represents the true essence of this award.”
Sarina is leading North Haven in tandem with fellow senior captains Abby Haggerty and Renee Myjak this season. Sarina says she likes being relied upon for guidance in the captain’s role.
“Being a captain for the cheer team has been really important to me, because I like being a leader and helping all the other girls during the routine and during the season. To see them improve if I’m encouraging them really makes an important part of the team aspect,” says Sarina, who will also captain North Haven’s outdoor track team while competing in the triple jump, the 400, and the 4x400 relay this spring. “I find being a part of the team is the most important part of cheerleading, because nothing else will work if it’s just you. You need to be able to cooperate and work with everyone else.”
During North Haven’s performances, Sarina lines up a back-spot who holds the Indians’ flyers. Like many cheerleaders, she loves the excitement of the competition season. After North Haven recently won its third SCC title and second in the All-Girl Division, Sarina is looking forward to competing at the upcoming State Championship meet.
“I definitely feel like states is the biggest one for us. That’s the one we work for throughout our season,” Sarina says. “There are local competitions we push ourselves to do well in, but they push us to what we need to work on for states. All the pressure is on, but in a good way.”
While competitions are the most important part of the season, Sarina also enjoys cheering on North Haven’s football and basketball teams. Sarina says the experience of performing at those games has given her a big boost of confidence.
“I really like the performance aspect of it. It’s kind of strange to me when I think about it because, when I was a freshman and even a sophomore, I was a lot more shy about performing in front of a big crowd,” Sarina says. “It really helped me get more confident, because everyone is so encouraging. I love performing in front of the crowd on Friday nights during football season and during basketball season all within the week.”
Sarina says she’d like to participate in either cheerleading or track in college. With her final season on the cheer team nearing its finish, Sarina feels proud to be part of a program that she will never forget.
“The team has really meant so much to me that it almost sounds cliché. I truly do feel I wouldn’t be the same without my team members. They brought me out of my shell and not only pushed me to get better, but encouraged me, and made me feel like I was a part of the team,” says Sarina. “Everyone really gets to know one another considering we spend almost every day together. That has been something that has meant the most to me in my life.”
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