D2 Preview: Carlson Chases History Again

March 4, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Gibraltar Carlson can add an MHSAA record Saturday to its already-incredible competitive cheer history.

With a sixth straight Division 2 championship, the Marauders would stand alone with the most consecutive MHSAA titles, regardless of class or division. They currently are tied for the longest streak with the Rochester teams from 1999-2003.

Following are glances at all eight Division 2 teams competing at the Grand Rapids DeltaPlex beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday. All four Cheer Finals will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a subscription basis.

Rank: No. 2.
League finish: Third in Downriver League.
Coach: Julie Goodwin, 11th season. 
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2010, runner-up 2008. 
Top score: 782.98 at the Regional.
Team composition: 24 total (four seniors, four juniors, 10 sophomores, six freshmen). 
Outlook: This team has a much different look than the one that finished fourth last season; the Jaguars had 11 seniors on that squad, but have four now but a large sophomore class. The new group has kept the same level of success, finishing no lower than third in an event this winter and second at last week’s Regional. Allen Park’s top Round 1 score of 237.1 is tops in Division 2, and its average overall score of 761.4 ranks second in the division – and the Jaguars came less than a point from beating Carlson at the Regional.

Rank: No. 6.
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League. 
Coach: Amber Genevich, 11th season.
Championship history: Four runner-up finishes (most recent 2014).
Top score: 780.36 at the District.
Team composition: 28 total (two seniors, 13 juniors, six sophomores, seven freshmen).
Outlook: After four straight runner-up finishes in Division 2, Divine Child came in third last season but only 12 hundredths of a point from finishing second again. The Falcons have taken a jump over the last two postseason meets, with the overall scores at those events their best this winter. Divine Child’s top Round 2 score of 229.1 ranks second in Division 2, and its average overall score of 748.7 is a solid fourth. Junior Victoria Greco earned an all-state honorable mention last season.

Rank: No. 4.
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Red. 
Coach: Candace Heskitt, eighth season.
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2015 and 2007.
Top score: 775.80 at the District. 
Team composition: 25 total (six seniors, two juniors, six sophomores, 11 freshmen).
Outlook: This is another team that has a younger make-up for this trip to the DeltaPlex, but arrives after winning its District and coming in second at the Regional – and placing lower than second at events only twice this season. And there’s plenty of experience, with senior Elizabeth Zunker an all-state first-teamer last season, senior Grace Colarossi making the second team and senior Payton Daggy earning honorable mention. The Panthers are especially strong in Round 1, with a top score of 235.1 ranking third in Division 2 this season.

Rank: No. 1.
League finish: First in Downriver League. 
Coach: Ayrn Ziesmer, second season.
Championship history: Eight MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), four runner-up finishes.
Top score: 786.40 at the District.
Team composition: 20 total (one senior, one junior, 11 sophomores, seven freshmen).
Outlook: The dynasty continued last season under a new coach as Carlson won its sixth championship in seven seasons and fifth straight. And the surge shows no signs of slowing as the Marauders bring one of the youngest teams to the DeltaPlex this weekend – but one that has an average overall score of 774.1 that tops Division 2 and ranks fourth regardless of division. Carlson’s top Round 2 score of 230.9 this season also ranks first in Division 2. Lone senior Mary Miller made the all-state first team last season, as did sophomore Hannah Pryba, while sophomores Samantha Zdankiewicz, Madison Holbrook and Derrian Forynski made the second team and sophomores Julia Nemeth, Gabby Genaw and Morgan Thomas earned honorable mentions.

Rank: No. 3.
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Black.
Coach: Chris Hudson, sixth season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 772.78.
Team composition: 23 total (seven seniors, three juniors, seven sophomores, six freshmen). 
Outlook: After finishing second at its league and District in 2015, Kenowa Hills won both again this winter; in fact, the Knights won all but one of their events and have finished first at eight straight. Kenowa Hills finished sixth at last season’s Final, but enters this weekend with the top Round 3 score in Division 2, 320.0, and third-highest average overall score in the division of 756.0. Senior Jordan Stellini made the all-state first team last season, while senior Kayla Impellizzeri made the second team and senior Skyler Dochod earned an honorable mention.

Rank: No. 5.
League finish: Second in O-K Black.
Coach: Amanda Heethuis, ninth season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 769.48.
Team composition: 23 total (five seniors, seven juniors, seven sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: After a season away, Mona Shores is back at the Finals coming off a second-place finish at its District and third at its Regional. The Sailors have finished first or second nine times this season and lower than third only once. Mona Shores surges in Round 2 – its top score of 227.5 ranks seventh in Division 2 – and its average overall score of 740.3 ranks sixth in the division. Senior Kennedy Ryan earned an all-region honorable mention in 2015.

Rank: Unranked.
League finish: First Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference.
Coach: Julie Jones, 19th season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 747.86.
Team composition: 18 total (11 seniors, four juniors, one sophomore, two freshmen).
Outlook: The senior-laden Blue Devils have surged in their first MHSAA Final since 2006 after a second straight league title and fourth straight Regional berth. Gull Lake won eight of its first 10 events this season and has posted four of its five top scores over the last five meets. Its top Round 2 and average overall scores both rank among the top 10 in Division 2 this season. Senior Montana Rehm earned an all-region honorable mention in 2015.

Rank: No. 10.
League finish: Fourth in Downriver League. 
Co-coaches: Michelle Maci and Kelly Leone, first seasons.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 774.68 at the Regional.
Team composition: 18 total (six seniors, five juniors, five sophomores, two freshmen).
Outlook: Trenton gives the strong Downriver League its fourth MHSAA finalist and third in this division. The Trojans advanced from a Regional that included two teams from its league but would’ve won the other Regional in Division 2 with their overall score. Trenton’s top scores in all three rounds rank among the top 10 in the division this season. Maci and Leone combine to bring coaching experience from multiple schools, including Divine Child. Seniors Erika Brower and Kelsi Hackney made the all-district second team last season.

PHOTO: Gibraltar Carlson competes during Round 3 of last season’s MHSAA Division 2 championship meet.

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.)