D1 Preview: Rochester Seeks Perfection

March 3, 2016

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.

Rank: Unranked.
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.

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.

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.)