By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – The Rochester Adams competitive cheer team has watched its neighboring schools hoist the Finals championship hardware three of the last four years.
Friday was finally the Highlanders’ turn to take center stage.
Adams won the program’s first Division 1 championship at the Delta Plex by edging runner-up Plymouth. The Highlanders tallied a three-round score of 791.70, while the Wildcats finished at 790.74 in their first Finals appearance.
Adams had been knocking on the door after finishing runner-up the last two seasons. It also placed second in Class A in 1996.
“It’s great, especially my senior year,” Highlanders senior standout Katie Crowe said. “We’ve come close in second place the last two years, and we finally broke through that wall today with a young team. It is a tremendous accomplishment, and I’m so proud.”
Adams sixth-year coach Brooke Miller was elated to get over the hump and overcome the heartache of back-to-back near-misses.
“It was all the determination of these girls,” Miller said. “There are a lot of young girls on this team that really didn’t understand what it took to be there, but there’s a lot of sisters and girls that came into the program that just really wanted it. We just had a really great year and were all so positive and open to everything.”
After a pair of solid rounds placed the Highlanders in the top spot, they cemented their victory with a Finals high score (322.10) in Round 3.
“The biggest things we talked about were heart and controlling your emotions, and we did that in the first two rounds to give us a great start,” Miller said. “And Round 3 was just about going out there and having fun and hitting it and doing it for the rest of the team.
“Round 3 has been our best all year, honestly, and when we hit, we have a great day. I was not nervous about it because I knew these girls were capable of amazing things.”
Senior Lyndi Harmon said the final round has been a staple in their successful season.
“Our Round 3 is pretty insane, and we’ve done some stunts that we’ve never done before and that no one in the state has done,” she said. “We hit it perfectly, and I feel grateful for everything this program has done for all of us. Knowing that our hard work paid off is the best feeling in the world.”
This year’s squad featured only four seniors, also including Delaney Crowe and Riley Lilla.
“We’ve had more experienced teams, but this is the most talented team I’ve had even though we have 17 underclassmen,” Miller said. “We’re going to have 23 returning state champions next year, so it’s going to be pretty awesome.”
Plymouth made a splash in its debut appearance at the Finals with three stellar rounds.
“These kids are absolutely incredible and have worked their tails off all season long to strive for perfection,” fifth-year coach Samantha Koehler said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The Wildcats also finished runners-up to Rochester Adams at their Regional by a narrow margin.
“We knew they were the best team in the state, so we were just chasing them,” Koehler said. “And to come in second behind them is just a dream come true.”
Plymouth was in third heading into the final round, but jumped to second with a third-round routine (321.70) that had Koehler in tears.
“Our Round 3 has been one of the best ones in the state,” Koehler said. “That was our deal breaker, and we knew we could count on it. They hit it, and it helped get us to where we needed to be.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Rochester Adams performs during Round 3 on the way to claiming its first Division 1 championship Friday night at the Delta Plex. (Middle) A Plymouth athlete soars high off the mat during her team’s Round 3 routine.
The Croswell-Lexington competitive cheer team had finished fourth, fifth and fourth, respectively over the last three Division 3 Finals as this season began in November with more high expectations – but also the annual challenge of believing those could be attained.
Competing in the same Blue Water Area Conference as Richmond, the Pioneers are more familiar than most with the program that entered the season coming off a fourth-straight Division 3 title. And as a regular at Finals weekend, Cros-Lex also is plenty aware of the power of Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, the only other team besides Richmond to win a Division 3 championship between 2012-22.
But during the Pioneers’ first competition this winter, coach Katie Tomlinson knew this could be the team to rise above that history and make some of its own.
Cros-Lex finished fifth of 18 at the Jan. 6 Richmond Invitational, but second in Division 3 to only the host Blue Devils, and with scores including a D3-best 309.30 in Round 3.
“For our first competition, (we had) some of our best scores we’ve ever received – and typically our first competition is really tough for us. So that was kind of a turning point,” Tomlinson said. “Just the confidence they had that first night, competing for the first time, it was just a shift.”
That shift provided early momentum as Cros-Lex made one of the most impressive championship moves in any winter sport this season.
The Pioneers are the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for March after finishing their season as MHSAA Finals champions in the sport for the first time, overcoming a 1.24-point deficit to Richmond after Round 2 to win the Division 3 title at Central Michigan University’s McGuirk Arena.
Croswell-Lexington finished with three-round score of 776.72, seven-tenths of a point better than runner-up Notre Dame Prep and with nearly two points more than the Blue Devils. The Pioneers launched into the lead with a 314.50 in Round 3, the second-best score for that round in the competition.
“I think that it was such a shock for them in the moment and so exciting and rewarding,” Tomlinson recalled this week, “but it definitely was the work put in, just like every other team, and believing in themselves and just going out there and doing what we always do and what we’d worked hard for and what we’d put in that time and effort for – and just watching it pay off. It was kind of a mix of just really believing in ourselves – it’s been a challenge for a few years now building up that confidence to know that they are a team that’s worthy of a state championship and then proving that. They earned it.”
And it was truly a team effort. Cros-Lex had 28 athletes, and only one of the other 31 teams across four divisions at the Finals – Division 1 Grandville with 30 – had more on the roster. Of those 28, 22 competed in at least one round at CMU. Juniors Alexis Bales, Cora Katulski, Shelby Oliver and Makayla Rice and sophomore Carly Old competed in all three rounds, while seniors Noelle Golda, Santanna Horning and Emma Six and sophomores Larkin Krohn, Niah Krohn, Kaleigh Kelch and Addyson Sharpe competed in two rounds. Seniors Cassidy Seaman, Deborahann White, Maria Tabernero and Alleyna Martinez; junior Grace Hodges, sophomores Emma Yearkey, Madison Greenaway, Maggie Wallace and Addison Gardner; and freshman Chelsea Miller also took the mat.
Oliver, Katulski, Rice, Bales, Old and Kelch made the all-state first team. Wallace, Hodges and Sharpe made the second team, and Six, Horning and Golda earned honorable mentions.
Cros-Lex had finished second to Richmond in the BWAC and second to Notre Dame Prep at their District before finishing third to both at the Regional. The Pioneers had never finished higher than fourth at a Final.
“We are up against (Richmond) quite a bit and I’m super close with Kelli (Blue Devils coach Kelli Matthes) … and honestly, we enjoy going to the competitions that have those teams that have won on that stage,” said Tomlinson, who has been part of the Pioneers cheer program since seventh grade beginning as an athlete and including the last eight seasons as head coach. “It sure pushes us further to be better and keep improving instead of staying satisfactory.
“It does make it hard when you’re up against such powers for years where they take it every single year. It makes the girls second-guess themselves and their capabilities, so that was a big thing that we started back in June for sideline and tried since to implement every day – the confidence and the belief in ourselves that even though they’re great, we are too.”
Past Teams of the Month, 2022-23
February: Hart girls & boys basketball - Report
January: Taylor Trillium Academy girls bowling - Report
December: Byron Center hockey - Report
November: Martin football - Report
October: Gladwin volleyball - Report
September: Negaunee girls tennis - Report