By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Rochester finished mere points short in 2015 from earning an MHSAA record 13th Finals championship.
If Friday goes the same as the rest of this season so far, the Falcons this time will celebrate another title – and a perfect season as well.
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. 5.
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Co-coaches: Stacy Geerts, 15th season.
Championship history: Two runner-up finishes (most recent 2010).
Top score: 787.80.
Team composition: 26 total (five seniors, nine juniors, eight sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: East Kentwood is back at the Finals for the first time since its runner-up finish in 2010; the Falcons also were runners-up in 2004. East Kentwood also won its fourth league and third District title in five seasons after missing out on both last season. The Falcons have finished first or second in seven straight events, scoring 780 points or higher in all of them after doing so only once during their first six events, and their top Round 2 score of 231.8 also is tops in any division this season. Senior Ciboney Woods and junior Tyra Hunt made the all-region second team in 2015.
Rank: No. 3.
League finish: First in O-K Red.
Coach: Julie Smith-Boyd, 35th season.
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), eight runner-up finishes.
Top score: 789.90 at District.
Team composition: 30 total (eight seniors, 14 juniors, four sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: After just missing on a championship in 2014, Grandville took the next step last winter to win its first MHSAA title since 2011. The Bulldogs have the top Round 1 (238.7) and 3 (322.0) scores regardless of division this season and an experienced nucleus of upperclassmen despite graduating a strong group last spring. Seniors Mackenzie Brower and Kelsey Russell made the all-state second team last season, and juniors Kayley Schuitema and Daelyn Weir earned honorable mentions.
League finish: Third in O-K Red.
Coach: Amanda Isenga, 11th season.
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2012.
Top score: 777.52 at the Regional.
Team composition: 29 total (10 seniors, 11 juniors, three sophomores, five freshmen).
Outlook: Hudsonville is back at the Finals after two seasons away and has been steadily building, increasing its overall score four straight events. The Eagles’ strongest round is Round 3, where its 319.4 top score is tied for seventh-highest in Division 1 this season, and they finished first or second overall in six events. Junior Amanda Adams earned all-district honorable mention last season.
Rank: No. 9.
League finish: Fifth in Oakland Activities Association Red.
Coach: Nicole Hills, third season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 778.22 in the Regional.
Team composition: 28 total (four seniors, 11 juniors, nine sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: Lake Orion emerged after a fifth-place finish in the competitive OAA Red to return to the Finals for the third time under Hills, rising from that league finish to take first in its District and third in its Regional. The Dragons’ top Round 2 score of 229.8 is ninth-best in Division 1, and its best overall score of 780.7 ranks 10th. Senior Destiny Roper and juniors Olivia Duffy and Sydney Johnson both earned all-region second-team honors in 2015, when the team finished fourth at the Finals.
Rank: No. 1.
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red.
Coach: Susan Wood, 35th season.
Championship history: Twelve MHSAA titles (most recent 2009), four runner-up finishes.
Top score: 789.84 in the District.
Team composition: 25 total (13 seniors, 12 juniors).
Outlook: Last season’s Final, when Rochester finished 1.47 points from winning the championship, was the last time the team finished lower than first in an event. The Falcons have swept the season so far, posting its first of three scores of 788 or higher in just the third event of the winter. None of Rochester’s round high scores are tops in Division 1 this season, but its average total score of 781.9 is 6.5 points better than the field. Senior Allison Surinck made the all-state first team last season, while senior Gabby Leo made the second and seniors Fallon Franczyk and Kaitlyn Kok earned honorable mentions.
Rank: No. 6.
League finish: Second in Downriver League.
Coach: Stacey Shaw, second season.
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2014).
Top score: 780.74.
Team composition: 29 total (eight seniors, seven juniors, nine sophomores, five freshmen).
Outlook: Anderson missed the Finals last season after winning three straight Division 1 titles from 2012-14, but the Titans are back after winning their District and finishing fourth at their Regional. Shaw was an assistant on the championship teams before being promoted last winter, and she brings a team that has scored fewer than 770 points only once over its last eight events and boasts the fifth-highest average overall score in Division 1 of 768.7. Seniors Amber Droste, Brittany Prister and Cassidy Tear and junior Alana Vallar earned all-region honors a year ago.
STERLING HEIGHTS STEVENSON
Rank: No. 2.
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red.
Coach: Brianna Verdoodt, 11th season.
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up in 2011.
Top score: 787.34 at the Regional.
Team composition: 28 total (six seniors, seven juniors, 13 sophomores, two freshmen)
Outlook: Stevenson’s Titans returned to the Finals last season and finished seventh, but less than a point out of fifth. They’ve finished first or second in their last nine events, including first at their District and second at their Regional, and lower than second only once this season. The top scores in all three of their rounds rank among the top 10 in Division 1, and Stevenson’s overall average score of 775.4 is second only to Rochester’s. Senior Kenzi Denoff made the all-state second team last season, and sophomore Izzie Nitecki earned honorable mention as freshman.
Rank: No. 8.
League finish: Fourth in OAA Red.
Coach: Stephanie Brosky, 16th season; Kaja Clark, eighth season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 784.90.
Team composition: 21 total (12 seniors, two juniors, three sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: After a season away, Athens is back in the Finals also coming out of the OAA Red, following up league competition with third-place finishes at the District and Regional. The Red Hawks especially shine in Round 3, where their top score of 320.9 is tied for third over all divisions; their average overall score of 768.1 ranks sixth in Division 1. Athens is on a streak of three straight events with scores of at least 774.
PHOTO: Rochester performs its Round 3 routine at last season’s Division 1 Final en route to an overall runner-up finish.
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