D2 Preview: Contenders Chasing Carlson

March 3, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Saturday’s Division 2 Competitive Cheer Final will have a nice mix of familiar and new – even as the favorite is one of the most dominant powerhouses in the history of the sport.

Gibraltar Carlson has won six straight championships, and Allen Park is expected to make the greatest push after also finishing second last winter. But three more of eight teams at Saturday morning’s 10 a.m. competition will be taking the mat at the Finals for the first time.

Following are glances at all eight Division 2 teams competing. All four Finals will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a subscription basis.

Rank: No. 2.
League finish: Second in Downriver League.
Coach: Julie Goodwin, 12th season. 
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2010, runner-up 2016 and 2008. 
Top score: 789.12.
Team composition: 25 total (six seniors, eight juniors, eight sophomores, three freshmen). 
Outlook: Allen Park improved from fourth in 2015 to second last winter, and its top score heading into this weekend is seven points higher than at this time a year ago. The Jaguars have finished first or second in every competition this season except when they took third at their District; their top round scores are all among the top three in Division 2, and their average overall score of 777.7 is the highest in the state regardless of division. Seniors Olivia Grab and Delaney Millner and junior Carolyn Morris made the all-state first team last season, while junior Faith Ridolfi made the second and junior Hailey Woodworth earned honorable mention.

Rank: Honorable mention.
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference White. 
Coach: Yvonne Ridge, 14th season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 756.82 at the District. 
Team composition: 20 total (seven seniors, seven sophomores, six freshmen).
Outlook: The Orioles are making their first trip to the MHSAA Finals in this sport after maintaining a spot among mid-Michigan’s top teams throughout this decade. They won their sixth straight league title and first District championship under Ridge this winter and have posted their three highest scores over their most recent six competitions. Sophomore Madyson Conklin earned an all-region honorable mention last season, and the future looks bright as well with 13 underclassmen making up more than half of the roster.

Rank: No. 3.
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League. 
Coach: Amber Genevich, 12th season.
Championship history: Four runner-up finishes (most recent 2014).
Top score: 789.2 at the District.
Team composition: 27 total (11 seniors, six juniors, six sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: Divine Child has finished among the top four, including fourth last season, at six straight Division 2 Finals and could be poised to climb again led by a large senior class. The score posted at the District is the second-highest in the division this season, and its top round scores all are among the top three in the division as well. Seniors Hannah Cifaldi and Paige Frye made the all-state first team last season, while junior Kristina Waldenmeyer made the second and senior Rylee Cronin and junior Megan O’Leary earned honorable mentions.

Rank: No. 6.
League finish: First in Flint Metro League.
Coach: Carrie Seymour, 13th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 763.74.
Team composition: 19 total (six seniors, eight juniors, four sophomores, one freshman).
Outlook: Kearsley is having a banner season with its first league and District titles and first trip to the MHSAA Finals. The Hornets won eight of their first nine competitions – finishing second in the other – and then came in fourth at their Regional to qualify for Saturday. Senior Hailey Baltosser made the all-region second team in 2016, and senior Madison Teed earned honorable mention.

Rank: No. 1.
League finish: First in Downriver League. 
Coach: Ayrn Ziesmer, third season.
Championship history: Nine MHSAA titles (most recent 2016), four runner-up finishes.
Top score: 793.48 at the District.
Team composition: 19 total (one senior, six juniors, three sophomores, nine freshmen).
Outlook: Carlson won its eighth title over the last nine seasons in 2016 with almost all underclassmen – and will look to extend the streak with a roster that has a little more experience but still is among the youngest in this division. That hasn’t mattered; the 793.48 score is the highest in the state, any division, this season, and the Marauders also have the top round score in the division in all three – and the tops in all divisions in Round 2 (233.1) and Round 3 (321.4). Senior Jordyn Hodge and juniors Hannah Pryba, Emily Scheffler and Samantha Zdankiewicz all made the all-state first team last season, while junior Katy Bradley and sophomore Madison VanBrimer made the second team and junior Morgan Thomas earned honorable mention.

Rank: No. 5.
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Black.
Coach: Chris Hudson, seventh season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 776.72.
Team composition: 25 total (three seniors, six juniors, eight sophomores, eight freshmen). 
Outlook: Kenowa Hills improved from sixth in 2015 to third last season and ranks among the top four in Division 2 in highest score for Rounds 1 and 2 and overall. The Knights have finished first or second at all of their events, including the District and Regional behind league rival Muskegon Mona Shores. Junior Brianne Elliott made the all-state second team last season.

Rank: No. 4.
League finish: First in O-K Black.
Coach: Amanda Heethuis, 10th season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 771.22.
Team composition: 24 total (eight seniors, seven juniors, six sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: Mona Shores is hoping to take another step at the Finals after moving up to win its league, District and Regional and all events but two where it finished second. The Sailors were seventh at last season’s Final but have the fourth-highest average score in Division 2 of 752.4. Junior Grace VanArendonk made the all-state first team in 2016, and senior Autumn Lambert made the second.

League finish: Fourth in O-K Black. 
Coach: Brittany Hoffman, third season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 753.48.
Team composition: 22 total (four seniors, nine juniors, six sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: Hoffman, a member of the first cheer teams at the school before graduating in 2003, returned to coach in 2014 after then-coach Danielle Nash was diagnosed with brain cancer. Nash died in December of that year, and the team went on to reach Regionals for the first time – and now earn its first MHSAA Finals berth. The Rockets’ top three scores have come during their last three meets, including in a second-place finish to Mona Shores at the Greater Muskegon city competition.  

PHOTO: Muskegon Mona Shores, here competing in Round 3 last season, is among teams hoping to challenge Gibraltar Carlson’s dynasty Saturday.

Team of the Month: Croswell-Lexington Competitive Cheer

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

April 14, 2023

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
Taylor Trillium Academy girls bowling - Report
Byron Center hockey - Report
Martin football - Report
Gladwin volleyball - Report
Negaunee girls tennis - Report