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  • Greg Lederer

Pepe Realizes Dream With Bryant Cheerleading

Bryanna Pepe enjoyed putting on a uniform to sign with Bryant cheerleading. Submitted photo.

Pictured from left, Bryanna Pepe enjoyed receiving All-SCC honors with Cheshire teammates Jillian Falcone and Kenzie Dudeck. Submitted photo.

by Greg Lederer

Cheshire Sports Media

On April 27, Bryanna Pepe felt a special atmosphere watching the cheerleading/dance team at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island. After having sent video clips to Head Coach Toni Gravel, the Cheshire High School senior was invited to come and watch the Bulldogs practice.

At the end, she was honored to be offered a spot on their roster for next year. Pepe was given team clothing to wear while she signed with the Bulldogs.

“It was definitely a crazy experience. I knew that Bryant would be my first choice,” explained Pepe. “When I put on the uniform, I felt that I was already a member of the team and that I fit in.”

Pepe has aspired to be a college athlete since she was 6. She was introduced to cheerleading by her mother Andrea, who cheered in high school and college.

Andrea also served as cheerleading director of the Southington Knights Travel Football & Cheer program.  

“She said that she wanted a daughter to be a cheerleader to share everything with,” recalled Pepe.

Her mother passed away from cancer in 2015, but Pepe feels that their shared passion continues to connect them.

“That is why I still continue to do cheerleading,” reflected Pepe. “It allows me to stay connected with her.”Pepe was born in Las Vegas, Nevada. After moving east to Connecticut, she lived in Southington and Oxford before coming to Cheshire in eighth grade.

“I was going to do Cheshire Junior Cheer, but since I was nervous about coming to a new town, I decided to take a year off,” explained Pepe.

In starting high school in 2020, she made varsity cheer team, however due to health concerns over the pandemic at the time, the Rams weren’t able to cheer at football games or participate in competitions in the winter season.

“Being on the team allowed me to build connections with the other girls,” reflected Pepe. “It was a scary feeling because you want to impress the coaches and also be your best for the upperclassmen.”

While not being able to compete as a freshman, she impressed her teammates and coaches by receiving All-Class LL honors with senior Reagan Gromko.

“It definitely meant a lot. It was a proud moment because I did that for my mom,” stated Pepe. “It was a crazy feeling because I didn’t think I was going to get it (in my) freshman year. I had never got an award like that.”

She hoped to get the honor throughout her career, but injuries tested her physically and mentally. As a sophomore, Pepe dealt with being diagnosed with COVID, having a concussion, and tearing two ligaments in her ankle.

“I didn’t compete until the final three competitions that year,” stated Pepe.

Pepe was excited to cheer in her junior year, however, she ended up tearing her anterior cruciate ligament during the first football game.

“It was definitely tough dealing with these injuries because I had never been injured before,” recalled Pepe. “It was definitely a setback, but what got me through it was the support of my friends and family. I went to the gym to get the strength back in my knee.”

While wearing a knee brace, Pepe enjoyed being back healthy last fall.

“It gave me a boost of energy,” reflected Pepe. “It made me proud of myself for taking the time to get ready for senior year.”

She felt that it was exciting to cheer on the sideline for one more fall season at CHS.

“The football games are really fun when the crowd is going really wild,” said Pepe.

In transitioning to the winter, Pepe was honored to serve as a tri-captain with seniors Kenzie Dudeck and Tessa Trocchi.

“I didn’t think that I would get it because (due to my injuries) I hadn’t had the chance to show the coaches what I could do,” stated Pepe.

She enjoyed being a leader for the younger girls.

“To me, it made me feel like they were family. Teaching them the skills they need to progress meant that I was following in my mom’s footsteps as a coach,” explained Pepe. “I wanted to show these underclassmen that no matter what, they will always succeed if they put in the effort. The girls always felt comfortable talking to me.”

Over the years, Pepe has become more comfortable performing. In cheerleading competitions, teams get to put together a two-and-a-half-minute routine of cheer, jumps, stunting, and tumbling for judging.

“It is a lot (of pressure) when you are waiting on the back of the court,” said Pepe. “Right when you step on the mat, it is gametime and you need to show what you have.”

After persevering through injuries in the last two years, Pepe was recognized in her final season. She earned All-Southern Connecticut Conference for the first time, joining junior Jillian Falcone and Dudeck.

Cheshire placed fourth overall in the SCC.

On the state level, Pepe, Falcone, and juniors Carlisha Outlaw and Maddie Veleber received All-Class LL honors. Four honorees set a single-season Cheshire cheerleading record.

“It felt amazing. I wanted to get All-State for four years in a row, but I couldn’t do that because of my injuries,” reflected Pepe. “Seeing them (my teammates) progress, as well as me, was good to see. It was fun exploring with all of these girls.”

Her senior year brought change, as Emily Funk succeeded Samantha Buckley as head coach for Cheshire cheerleading. Buckley chose to step down from the program, but Assistant Jill St. Jernquist stayed on the staff.

“Hearing Sam was resigning hurt us, but not in a sad way. We knew that she had things to do at home and has a family to take care of,” said Pepe. “We all got to feel a different energy from her (Funk). She got to see what our team is like together.”

After bonding with Cheshire coaches and teammates, Pepe expects that there will be a transition this fall. A week before classes start at Bryant, she’ll move into campus and participate in a cheer camp.

"It will definitely feel like when I first got on the varsity team as a freshman (at CHS). There will be nerves because these girls have been on the team longer than me,” stated Pepe. “I will learn by getting their criticism of my work. I’ve already been to practices and the girls are very welcoming.”

Pepe will cheer at football games this fall and do the same for basketball contests. When the winter season begins, the Bryant staff will pick cheerleaders for their competition team.

The schedule culminates with the National Cheer Association and National Dance Association College Nationals to be held April 9-13 in Daytona, Florida. This year, Bryant finished runner-up in their Division I event.

“It is my goal to show her (Coach Gravel) that I’m capable to be on this team,” stated Pepe. “I want to show her that it means a lot to me and that competing is my everything. I love it.”

Pictured from left, Bryanna Pepe, Carlisha Outlaw, Jillian Falcone, and Maddie Veleber contributed to a Cheshire cheerleading single-season record for All-State honors this year. Submitted photo.

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