D1 Preview: New Champion to Rise

March 5, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

For the first time since 2011, there will be a new MHSAA Division 1 competitive cheer champion.

And five of eight teams competing Friday are seeking the first MHSAA title in their programs’ histories.

Following are glances at all eight Division 1 teams competing at the Grand Rapids DeltaPlex beginning at 6 p.m. Previews for Divisions 2, 3 and 4 will be published Friday morning and early afternoon. All four Finals will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a subscription basis.

Rank: No. 7.
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association (West, Lakes and overall).
Co-coaches: Helena Hunt and Christina Swansey, fourth seasons.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 786.70.
Team composition: 26 total (11 seniors, six juniors, eight sophomores, one freshman).
Outlook: Grand Blanc is making its first trip to the MHSAA Finals and after dominating a strong KLAA. The Bobcats have posted some of the best scores in the state – their top overall score is third-best in Division 1 this season, while their best of 237.4 in Round 1 and 232.1 in Round 2 also both rank third in the division. Senior Madison Drye received an all-region honorable mention last season. Hunt led Waterford Mott to a Michigan Cheer Coaches Association championship in 2002.

Rank: No. 3.
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red.
Coach: Julie Smith-Boyd, 34th season.
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2011), eight runner-up finishes.
Top score: 789.22 at District.
Team composition: 30 total (12 seniors, seven juniors, nine sophomores, two freshmen).
Outlook: The Bulldogs fell only 2.42 points shy of earning last season’s championship and were tied for first after Round 1. Their top overall score is the second highest in Division 1 this season – they’ve gone over 780 points three times – and they also rank second in Round 3 with a best of 320.9. Seniors Trisha Merriman and Sam Salliotte earned all-state first-team honors last season, while senior Jasmine Martinez made the second team and senior Katie Roberts and junior Kelsey Russell earned honorable mentions.

Rank: Unranked.
League finish: Third in KLAA Lakes West.
Coach: Lizzie Nash, first season.
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2013.
Top score: 781.48 at the District.
Team composition: 22 total (10 seniors, five juniors, seven sophomores).
Outlook: Nash previously was an assistant at Northville and inherited a team that has made three straight MHSAA Finals and finished sixth a year ago. The District score was the eighth-highest overall in Division 1 this season and resulted in a championship; Hartland also finished ahead of league champ Grand Blanc at their Regional. Seniors Jenna Seychel and Shelby Snider both received all-region honorable mentions last season.

Rank: No. 6.
League finish: Second in Oakland Activities Association Red.
Coach: Nicole Hills, second season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 782.6 at the Regional.
Team composition: 24 total (seven seniors, eight juniors, six sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: Hills led Lake Orion to a fourth-place finish in her first season as head coach and District and Regional titles heading into this weekend. The Dragons’ top Round 2 (229.9) and Round 3 (318.1) scores both rank among the top 10 in Division 1 this winter.  Senior Julia Waelchli and junior Morgan Duerden were the team’s all-state first-teamers last season, and senior Sara Blodgett earned an honorable mention.

Rank: Unranked.
League finish: First in KLAA Central and Kensington.
Coach: Blair Koon, fifth season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 784.54 at the District.
Team composition: 32 total (11 seniors, nine juniors, six sophomores, six freshmen).
Outlook: Stevenson has won four straight KLAA division titles and an overall conference championship under Koon, who moved up to varsity after coaching both the freshman and then junior varsity teams – and this weekend she will lead the Spartans into the MHSAA Finals for the first time. They are scoring their best when it counts – they’ve gone over 784 both weekends of the postseason to finish runner-up both times to No. 2-ranked Rochester. All three of Stevenson's round scores rank among the top eight for those rounds in Division 1, with the best Round 1 of 237.8 second on that list. Senior Alissa Remijan and junior Kristina Smith earned all-region honorable mentions last season.

Rank: No. 2.
League finish: Third in OAA Red.
Coach: Susan Wood, 34th season.
Championship history: Twelve MHSAA titles (most recent 2009), three runner-up finishes.
Top score: 792.16 in the District.
Team composition: 28 total (15 seniors, 10 juniors, three sophomores).
Outlook: Despite a third-place league finish, this could be the season the Falcons regain the MHSAA title to add to District and Regional championships won the last two weekends. Rochester has posted the highest scores in all three rounds and overall this season and scored more than 780 points overall five times including in its last three events. Senior Emily Telesco earned an all-region honorable mention in 2014.

No. 1.
League finish: First in OAA Red.
Coach: Tricia Williams, 12th season.
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2010.
Top score: 782.06.
Team composition: 26 total (10 seniors, seven juniors, eight sophomores, one freshman).
Outlook: Stoney Creek has a claim to winning the most competitive league in the state this season, with two other teams from the OAA Red also in the Division 1 Final. The Cougars finished third at both their District and Regional, but scored more than 781 points at both and should improve mightily on last season’s eighth-place finish. Seniors Payton Dimoff and Sarah Koch and junior Asha Cook all earned all-region first-team honors last winter.

Rank: No. 5
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red.
Coach: Brianna Verdoodt, 10th season.
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up in 2011.
Top score: 775.66 in the District.
Team composition: 41 overall (four seniors, 12 juniors, 11 sophomores, 14 freshmen)
Outlook: After a season away, Verdoodt is back as coach – and Stevenson is back at the Finals for the third time in four seasons after missing in 2014. The Titans are especially strong in Round 3 – their best score of 318.2 ranks eighth in Division 1 this season – and their average overall score of 766.312 is fifth. Senior Sophia Gojcaj and junior Kenzi Denoff earned all-district second-team honors last season. 

PHOTO: Rochester Hills Stoney Creek performs a routine during last season's Division 1 Final at the Grand Rapids DeltaPlex.

Several Officials Give Time, Talents to Grant $21,000 in Scholarships at 22nd LMCCOA Meet

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

February 14, 2024

Jane Plaisted thinks it's one of those rare high school sporting events where scores and winners are secondary.

Instead, the focus of the recent Lake Michigan Competitive Cheer Officials Association meet is what the event could do for 75 seniors who competed in the sprawling 45-team meet at Byron Center.

All proceeds from the event went to fund scholarships for seniors who opted to write essays and then competed in the annual 22-year-old, three-division meet. The competition, which was completely run by LMCCOA judges, raised $21,000 to up its fundraising total to over $200,000 since the meet originated in 2001.

"It was a glorious day," said Plaisted, an LMCCOA member who has participated in 15 of the competitions. "The girls are happy, we're happy to give our time and it's such a positive day. We love being a part of it."

The event drew teams from as far away as St. Johns, DeWitt, Kalamazoo and Howard City Tri County. The chance to earn scholarship money was open to all 190 seniors who competed, and 75 chose to write an essay about "talking to their younger self and determining how competitive cheer has helped the athlete," said Stacy Smith, the president of the Michigan Cheer Judges Association. Smith said much of the event's dual goal is to promote competitive cheer while helping senior athletes wherever there is a financial need.

Several officials contribute to making the meet an unforgettable experience. The meet started with just five teams and a few hundred dollars in scholarships in 2001, but has blossomed into one of the largest single-day high school sports fundraisers in the state. The meet, which has been held at Byron Center three times as well as schools such as Caledonia and East Kentwood, reached a peak of raising $25,000 a year ago.

What makes the day particularly special, Smith said, is that between 50 and 70 members of the LMCCOA annually show up to donate their time without knowing how their abilities will be put to use. In addition to judging the meet, members handle virtually every other aspect of the competition, from taking tickets, working the concession stand, filling water bottles, scoring, running a 50/50 raffle and whatever else organizers can find for them to do.

"Cheer athletes aren't always recognized a lot for their work, but it's a sport where (Michigan) colleges have gained notoriety at the national level and now offer scholarships," Smith said. "It's become a big deal in the state. Division I and II schools and NAIA schools all offer scholarships now. This can help."

Seniors who choose to participate write their essay prior to the meet, and then a committee of judges pore over the writings during the meet. Winners are announced following the competition. Twenty-one seniors were awarded scholarship money.

Smith said few parents probably grasp how much detail goes into running a long, grueling Saturday event.

"I'm not sure if people realize all the hands that have to make this happen," she said. "We've been doing it for 20 years, and for us it's like riding a bike. You never forget. It's just a wonderful day.

"I'm not surprised people want to be part of it and step up wherever they're needed."

Plaisted said judges sign up for jobs when they arrive at the meet. A judge can be officiating an event one minute and selling hot dogs moments later. The 'work wherever needed' attitude of judges, she said, is what makes the event a popular destination for participating schools.

"As officials, we emphasize young women participating," she said. "That old concept of the dumb blonde cheerleader doesn't exist anymore. This is an accomplished group of girls who we support. If you talk to any of (the judges), this meet is one of the most fun things we're going to do all season.

The LMCCOA also awarded scholarships to seniors from Division 2 and 3 schools."It's become so popular. We gave away like $50 the first year, and since then we've grown from one long day to two sessions so we could increase the number of teams. Everyone goes home with a smile on their face, which for officials doesn't always happen."

Paw Paw cheer coach Stefanie Miller, whose team won the Division 3 portion of the meet, said coaches look forward to taking their teams to the meet.

"Absolutely because it's all about community," she said. "We talk to the girls about service and giving back. It's definitely a teachable moment, not only for the kids but for the adults, too, knowing what goes to the seniors."

"What I like best is that it promotes the athletes and all the work they put in. It's about giving back to them," added Brighton coach Christina Wilson, whose team won the Division 1 competition. "So many teams want to attend, and the coaches want the players to have a chance at a scholarship.

"I'm just in awe of seeing so many people there who are willing to give their energy for the kids."

One of Miller's favorite parts of the meet is watching fathers do a cheer "jump off" of their own tongue-in-cheek cheering skills while waiting for the final scores. She also loves volunteers making nearly 200 bows for participants to wear during the meet.

"Fathers do these cheerleader-type (routines) while there is a lull and it's just great," she said. "It's fun stuff like that that makes the day so special. It's all about giving back."

PHOTOS (Top) MHSAA official Jane Plaisted takes a photo with this year’s LMCCOA Division 1 scholarship winners. (Middle) Several officials contribute to making the meet an unforgettable experience. (Below) The LMCCOA also awarded scholarships to seniors from Division 2 and 3 schools. (Photos courtesy of Stacy Smith.)