GRAND RAPIDS – The MHSAA Division 2 Competitive Cheer Final came down Saturday to the top two ranked teams at the end of the regular season.
Gibraltar Carlson can almost claim a permanent home in the top spot.
No. 2 Dearborn Divine Child put on the pressure at the Grand Rapids Delta Plex. But the Marauders tied Divine Child with the meet’s highest Round 3 score to hold on to a 2.9 point advantage and claim their fourth championship in five seasons with a final score of 807.3944.
“It was absolutely mind-blowing,” Carlson senior Paige Arrington said.
“Our team is so close. We’re more of a family. We’re with each other nine months of the year through sideline and competitive, and they’re my sisters and my family. I have 24 sisters and a couple of moms with my coaches.”
Those coaches – Christina Wilson and Danielle Jokela – had to guide the Marauders through their toughest championship run since 2008 (not counting 2010, when Carlson finished runner-up to Allen Park.
The Marauders scored the meet’s top Round 1 and 2 scores, but still had to hang in for that Round 3 tie.
“It was not easy for us to come out on top today. We had to fight it out,” Wilson said.
Jokela added, “We have nine seniors who really contributed to making this come true.”
Richmond began this season as a continuation of last, when the Blue Devils courageously finished Division 3 runner-up despite losing an athlete to a torn knee ligament five minutes into Finals warm-up.
Top-ranked all season, the Devils succeeded in not starting over – complete with prepping in the same Delta Plex locker room Saturday as in 2011 and warming up on the same mat where their teammate was injured.
“Last year when one of our girls was injured, we fell back a little in the third round and that’s why we came in second,” Richmond senior Alana Timmerman said. “But this year we conquered our fears and took over. … We’re really a superstitious team, but we had to face that.”
No problem. Richmond posted the top Division 3 score in all three rounds to claim its first MHSAA title with a score of 781.838 – 16 points better than runner-up and reigning champion Comstock Park.
“Third, third, second, first. What more could you ask for?” said senior Kelsey Kasom, listing off the Devils’ Final finishes of the last four seasons. “We’ve pretty much taken everything, gone through every single thing a team doesn’t want to go through and need to go through to get where we are.”
“All year, we’ve been doing our best to critique the little things. We’ve been working on every little step,” senior Melissa Graham added. “We came into this year and said we were going to start off where we left off last year. So we weren’t coming in with a new team and a new mindset. We wanted to start where our skills were last year and work to get better.”
Michigan Center senior Michaela Haller spoke Saturday of a rough patch her team went through when she was a sophomore in 2010 – the season the Cardinals took only third place at the MHSAA Finals.
But compared to how her team fared her other three seasons, that sentiment is understandable.
Haller and eight other seniors capped off an incredible run by claiming their third Division 4 championship in four seasons, this time with a score of 759.944 to finish four points ahead of rival Pewamo-Westphalia. The two finished 1-2 at the District and Regional as well.
“I never dreamed my freshman year, or even after we won freshman year, that we’d do it two more times or that I’d leave being a state champion,” Haller said. “We went through a rough patch sophomore year, and after that my team just grew. Since then, every day we just get stronger.
“I feel like we definitely worked our way to where we are.”
Michigan Center finished second to Pewamo-Westphalia in both Rounds 1 and 3. But the Cardinals bested the Pirates by eight points in Round 2 to set up a cushion that held to the end.
“I knew they had it in them. … They’re poised, composed, and the experience definitely helps because they’ve been here, know what to expect and know how to get the job done,” Michigan Center coach Jessica Trefry said.
“I have some underclassmen that have stepped up already into leadership positions, are already grooming themselves to be in that position for next year. I really am not worried about leadership; I know it’s going to be there next year.”
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