Back on Top in Downriver Rivalry, Carlson Claims 1st Finals Title Since 2019

By Tom Kendra
Special for

March 3, 2023

MOUNT PLEASANT – It was Gibraltar Carlson’s turn to triumph in what has become one of the state’s most intense high school rivalries.

The Marauders seized control of Friday’s Division 2 Competitive Cheer Final from the start, then held off a valiant push from archival Allen Park to win the 12th cheer state championship in school history at McGuirk Arena in Mount Pleasant.

“We came in with the mindset of winning,” said Carlson senior Kaitlynn Demers. “We do these things in practice until they are perfect, so that we can bring them out here on the mat.”

Carlson and Allen Park were both more than eight points ahead of the field after two rounds, then distanced themselves even further by nailing their challenging Round 3 routines.

Carlson won the meet at 789.54, a little over a half-point better than Allen Park (788.86). Dearborn Divine Child (774.96) took third, followed by Bay City Western (767.94) and Middleville Thornapple Kellogg (762.28).

“Both teams are truly incredible,” said second-year Carlson coach Alyssa Tocco, who, ironically, is a 2016 graduate and former cheerleader at Allen Park.

“When you beat Allen Park, you’ve done something special. This is going to take a while to sink in, but right now I feel nothing but pride and love for my girls.”

Either Allen Park or Carlson have now won the past 16 D2 cheer titles. The last time a school other than those two won it was Holland Christian in 2007.

That competition has pushed both to greater heights of precision in the earlier rounds and more demanding routines in the critical Round 3.

Unlike earlier in the day, when unheralded Croswell-Lexington snuck in-between powers Richmond and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep for an improbable Division 3 title, Allen Park and Gibraltar Carlson quickly distanced themselves from the rest of the field – making it a two-team race coming down the stretch in the final round.

Allen Park competes on the way to a runner-up finish.Allen Park went fifth in Round 3 and absolutely nailed it, putting even more pressure on Carlson, which followed AP onto the mat in the sixth position.

“We had a great day,” said 17th-year Allen Park coach Julie Goodwin, whose team was shooting for a fourth-straight title. “I couldn’t have asked for a better three rounds from the girls. We did everything we needed to do.”

Indeed, it was certainly not a case of Allen Park losing it, but rather of Carlson coming out and winning it.

Taking the mat immediately after the Jaguars’ powerhouse Round 3 performance, the Marauders did even better, gaining an extra point in the final round (320.60-319.60). Carlson’s biggest edge, however, was in the first round, when it bolted to a significant 1.7-point lead.

“We were ready and focused from the start,” said Tocco. “Never count out Round 1. We work on it constantly, and that made a difference today.”

The Marauders were led this winter by an outstanding senior class, which included Demers, a returning first-team all-stater, and second-team honorees Tiaira Michalik, Ellen Szucs and Emilee Bain. Senior Ciana Caliguire and junior Mya Oikarinen were returning honorable mention choices.

Allen Park, which finished second behind Carlson in the Downriver League, turned the tables and edged the Marauders at Regionals by two-hundredths of a point.

The Jaguars had a veteran team this year as well, with 11 seniors and 11 juniors on the 27-athlete roster. Among the team leaders were senior returning first-team all-staters Kristina Beste, Alyssa Rios and Madisyn Setser and senior second-team all-state choices Aleia Breckenridge and Emma Buffa.

Carlson has the upper hand in the rivalry historically, with 12 championships and seven runner-up finishes, but hadn’t won a championship since 2019. Allen Park, which has five state titles and five runners-up finishes, had seized control with three straight crowns.

Reclaiming the top spot felt extra sweet for the Carlson seniors, who didn’t want to end their prep careers without a Finals championship.

“This is a dream come true,” said Carlson senior Avery St. Andre. “Being able to win state and to be surrounded by the girls I love is incredible.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Gibraltar Carlson elevates during a routine at Friday night’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) Allen Park competes on the way to a runner-up finish.

Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

March 10, 2023

SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.

Greater DetroitThat question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”

“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.

It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.

Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.

It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.

“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”

Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.

The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.

“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”

Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.

But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.

Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.

Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.

“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”

Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.

With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.

“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.

Both also learn from each other’s experiences.

“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”

Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”

This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.

With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.

That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.

But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.

With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)