By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – The final round of a competitive cheer meet has the ability to sway emotions one way or another.
On Saturday, Round 3 proved to be the deciding factor in the end of an incredible MHSAA record-breaking run and the extreme jubilation of a team finally getting over the hump.
Allen Park delivered a stirring Round 3 performance and rallied past six-time reigning champion Gibraltar Carlson to win the Division 2 Final at the Grand Rapids DeltaPlex.
The Jaguars collected their first MHSAA Final since 2010 by the slimmest of margins. They posted a score of 787.96 and knocked off the top-ranked Marauders (787.90) by six hundredths of a point.
“Every little thing counts,” an elated Allen Park coach Julie Goodwin said. “I’ve never won a meet that was this close, but I’ll take this one. Round 3 has been a great round all year, and I knew if they came out fighting we would be able to take it. I knew it would be close, but I knew our Round 3 could do it for us.”
It appeared as if Gibraltar Carlson was headed toward a seventh straight Division 2 title after grabbing a three-point lead entering the final round.
However, the Jaguars were within striking distance of their Downriver League foe and needed a clutch effort.
“Our coach told us that if we wanted this right now then we had to go out there and do what you do best,” said Allen Park’s Delaney Millner, one of six seniors on the team.
“We went out there, and I think that’s exactly what we did. I could feel their energy on the mat, and ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be on this team and it’s the most humble feeling in the world knowing that my senior year I was able to go out with a bang.”
The Jaguars finished with a score of 321.4 in Round 3, while the Marauders had a 318.4.
“Round 3 is our favorite round and we have so many different things going on,” senior Olivia Grab said. “We knew going into Round 3 that if we put everything we could on the mat then we knew we could take it home.
“We worked so hard from the beginning of the season and so many girls returned from last year when we were runner-up. We knew how hard we had to work, and we broke the streak.”
Allen Park had been knocking on the door. It finished fourth in 2015 and runner-up to Gibraltar Carlson a year ago.
“I kept telling this team that, ‘you are close, you are almost there’, and this is the one that counts,” Goodwin said. “They battled and they wanted it. It’s the hardest-working team I’ve coached, and I couldn’t be more proud.
“After Round 1 we were down and that was a bummer, but it takes three rounds. I knew our Round 2 and Round 3 could pull us through if they did what they needed to do, and they did. They’re the six-time defending champions, and they’re very good.”
Added Millner: “I knew with this team that we had the ability, we had the talent and we had the work ethic. We just had to go out there and kill it.”
It was an emotional outcome for Gibraltar Carlson, which has been a perennial powerhouse in Division 2 for almost a decade.
The Marauders, who were young this season with only one senior, had won eight titles over the last nine years, including setting a new MHSAA record for consecutive titles in any division last season.
“I thought they did great, and I’m very proud of them,” Gibraltar Carlson coach Ayrn Ziesmer said. “Round 1 we came out with a very strong lead, and we could’ve done a little better in Round 2, but we still ended up winning the round. Round 3 was great, and I couldn’t have asked anything more from them.
“Allen Park did great today. I thought today was the best I’ve ever seen them, and I’m really excited for them. They’ve had to go through watching someone else win for six years, and I really hope they enjoy this time because it definitely goes by so fast before you start preparing for another.”
Muskegon Mona Shores (778.94) placed third for its highest finish in school history, while Dearborn Divine Child (775.76) was fourth.
PHOTOS: (Top) Allen Park performs a routine during Saturday’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) Gibraltar Carlson finished second at the Grand Rapids DeltaPlex.
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