By Dean Holzwarth
Special to Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – The Michigan Center competitive cheer team didn’t perform to its full potential in Round 3 of the MHSAA Division 4 Final.
A strong Round 2 performance prior to that more than made up for it.
The Cardinals sputtered in their final round Saturday afternoon at the DeltaPlex, but it didn’t prevent them from pulling off the three-peat.
Michigan Center won its third straight MHSAA Division 4 crown by less than four points over runner-up Pewamo Westphalia.
The Cardinals tallied a three-round score of 731.26, while the Pirates made a late charge and finished with a 727.52.
“If it wasn’t for having such a strong Round 1 and Round 2 score, we wouldn’t have won this competition,” Michigan Center coach Jessica Trefry said. “We struggled a little bit in Round 3, and unfortunately it wasn’t as high as we hoped to be. But as a whole, we did enough to get it done.”
Michigan Center, which also won the title in 2009 before its current run, took a commanding 11-point lead following a dominating Round 2 that has been its trademark.
The Cardinals, who didn’t get outscored in Round 2 all season, registered a score of 219.96 to provide a much-needed cushion entering the final round.
“Round 2 has been a strength of ours all year, and my girls are incredible athletes and are strong with their skills in that round,” Trefry said. “I tell them that no one can out-do them in that round, and it’s true. It is an amazing group that is so in sync and powerful.”
Michigan Center had an early fall in Round 3, and its score (288.1) was the second lowest of the eight teams.
The team, however, recovered from the early miscue.
“I did take a fall, but it didn’t matter because I knew the rest of the round I had to stick everything perfectly,” said Michigan Center’s Megan Shown, the team’s lone senior. “In every round I knew we could dominate in, and obviously we did. This is amazing, three of them in a row back-to-back-to-back. I can’t believe it. I’m a senior, so it’s the best way to go out.”
Pewamo-Westphalia was seeking its ninth MHSAA title, and first since 2010, but wound up with a runner-up finish for the third straight year.
“It was hard to come back from that difference in Round 2, but they did amazing,” Pirates coach Staci Myers said. “It is the best they’ve ever done in all three rounds, and I couldn’t be prouder. We were excited to be here, and to come out with a medal and second place.”
Pewamo Westphalia narrowed the gap on Michigan Center by delivering the second-highest Round 3 score.
“They came out and hit Round 3, and I couldn’t ask them to do anymore,” Myers said. “It was the best they have performed it this year, and we were able to stay in second.”
Michigan Center defended despite graduating nine seniors from last year’s squad, and with the return of all but one for next season, the future remains bright.
“We returned some strong athletes, and they had this in their mind from the very beginning,” Trefry said.
“This was their goal, to be here and win it again. I have a big group of juniors, and now they want to get it done again next year. It gets harder and harder every year, but I’m proud of this group and the effort they’ve put in this year. I’ve enjoyed this year.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Michigan Center competes during Saturday's Division 4 Final at the DeltaPlex. (Bottom) Michigan Center poses with its latest MHSAA championship trophy. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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