By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A year ago, Sterling Heights Stevenson won its first MHSAA Finals in competitive cheer. Five more Division 1 teams will look to do the same at Friday’s Division 1 championship meet at the Grand Rapids Delta Plex.
But the past champs will provide plenty of competition. Stevenson is back, Grandville has won six times and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek appears primed to win for the first time since 2010.
Below are glances at all eight teams competing Friday. Round 1 begins at 6 p.m. and the event in its entirety will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a subscription basis. Click here for the Finals draws and other important information.
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West and overall
Coach: Christina Wilson, seventh season
Championship history: Class A runner-up 1999.
Top score: 787.48 at the Regional.
Team composition: 22 total (nine seniors, six juniors, three sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: After missing the Finals last season by half a point, Brighton is back with a runner-up finish at its Regional and fourth straight District championship. The Bulldogs’ average total score of 779.7 ranks fourth in Division 1, and Brighton won eight of 10 events it cheered at this winter. Senior Kylie Neal made the all-District first team last season.
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League
Coach: Christina Swansey, eighth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 788.56 at Regional.
Team composition: 25 total (four seniors, 11 juniors, seven sophomores, three freshmen)
Outlook: Grand Blanc finished fourth at last season’s Finals and has surged into this weekend with league, District and Regional championships. Its average total score of 779.8 ranks third in Division 1, and its best Round 3 score of 320.7 ranks fourth. Most of last year’s standouts are leading the way again: senior Alyssa Sornson made the all-state first team last season, while senior Rachel Zelley and junior Lanya Bates made the second and junior Jacquelyn Engel and sophomore Mackenzie Hummel earned honorable mentions.
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Coach: Julie Smith-Boyd, 38th season
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), nine runner-up finishes.
Top score: 789.02 at the District.
Team composition: 29 total (10 seniors, seven juniors, six sophomores, six freshmen)
Outlook: Last season’s sixth-place finisher has won two of its championships this decade and could contend for another this weekend riding six straight scores above 780. Its Round 3 is especially strong, with its best score ranking fifth in Division 1 at 320.6. Senior Hailey Brower made the all-state second team last season, and senior Mackenzie Corey earned honorable mention.
League finish: Second in KLAA West
Coach: Candace Fahr, second season
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2013.
Top score: 783.96 at the Regional.
Team composition: 20 total (seven seniors, eight juniors, two sophomores, three freshmen)
Outlook: Hartland is returning to the Finals for the first time since 2015 after finishing third or better in nine of 11 events this winter. Round 3 also is the Eagles’ strength, as its best score of 319.8 ranks ninth in Division 1. Seniors Moriah Sweet and Macy Bonar both earned all-Region recognition last season.
ROCHESTER HILLS STONEY CREEK
League finish: Second in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Tricia Williams, 17th season
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2010.
Top score: 793.78 at the District.
Team composition: 26 total (seven seniors, seven juniors, 10 sophomores, two freshmen)
Outlook: After finishing fourth last season, Stoney Creek has blasted into this weekend as the possible favorite coming off Regional and District wins. The District score shown above is the highest in Division 1 this season, and Stoney Creek also has posted the top Round 1 (239.4), Round 2 (232.6), Round 3 (322) and average total scores (782) this winter. Seniors Renee Kehren and Mandy Lilla earned all-state honorable mentions last season.
League finish: First in OAA Red
Coach: Brooke Miller, fifth season
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2018, Class A runner-up 1996.
Top score: 792.32 at the District.
Team composition: 23 total (seven seniors, six juniors, six sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: Adams has finished first or second in every event this season, including ahead of Stoney Creek at the league final. The Highlanders rank just behind Stoney Creek with the second-highest Round 2 (tied – 232.3) and Round 3 (321.2) scores in Division 1 this season, and also with the second highest total score. Seniors Amanda Lee and Taylor Mickens and junior Katie Crowe made the all-state second team last season, and junior Lyndi Harmon earned honorable mention.
STERLING HEIGHTS STEVENSON
League finish: Second in Macomb Area Conference Red
Coach: Brianna Verdoodt, 14th season
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2018, two runner-up finishes.
Top score: 786.84.
Team composition: 26 total (14 juniors, eight sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: A team that graduated 10 seniors and had no juniors when it won the title a year ago is now led by a large group of juniors. Stevenson has scored 780 or higher six times this season including to win its District, and its top Round 1 score (238.8) ranks second in Division 1 while its best Round 3 (321.2) ranks third. Juniors Sophia Costa, Ava Baich and Alexis Juncaj all earned all-state honorable mentions last season.
League finish: First in MAC Red
Coach: Kristy Potance, first season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 790.76 at the District.
Team composition: 23 total (10 seniors, five juniors, eight sophomores)
Outlook: Eisenhower will compete at the Finals for the first time, led by first-year coach Potance – who brought to the program her two decades of success including at the California high school level. The Eagles have scored at least 790 twice, with their high score ranking third this season in Division 1, and their best Round 1 (238.4), Round 2 (232.1) and Round 3 (320.4) scores all among the top six. Senior Amanda Beger earned all-District honorable mention last season.
PHOTO: Rochester Hills Stoney Creek competes at its Regional last weekend; the Cougars won the meet. (Photo courtesy of C&G Newspapers.)
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