D2 Preview: Downriver Powers Rising to Lead Another Finals Charge

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 4, 2022

A return of full Downriver League power will make Saturday morning’s Competitive Cheer Final feel much more like what we’re used to from Division 2.

Allen Park is back at Grand Rapids’ Delta Plex seeking a third-consecutive championship, and Gibraltar Carlson is returning after a year away and still sits second on the all-time championships list with 11. Southgate Anderson is a three-time Finals champ, and together they finished first-third in the league and their Regional over these last many weeks.

Division 2 competition begins at 10 a.m. Saturday. Tickets cost $10 and may be bought at the Delta Plex, and all four Finals will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and viewable with a subscription. More information, including the spectator seating chart, is posted at MHSAA.com.

Below is a look at all eight finalists: 

League finish: First in Downriver League
Coach: Julie Goodwin, 17th season
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2021), four runner-up finishes.
Top score: 794.16.
Team composition: 28 total (nine seniors, 11 juniors, six sophomores, two freshmen).
Outlook: The Jaguars are competing for a third-straight Division 2 title and seventh-straight top-two Finals finish. They are again undefeated heading into Finals weekend, having broken 790 points in five of their last six competitions. Many of the team’s leaders have championship experience and multiple all-state honors – seniors Adreanna Carone and Cassidy Kuhn and junior Emma Buffa are returning first-team selections from 2021, while senior Cassidy Reardon and junior Kristine Beste made the second team last season and juniors Madisyn Setser and Emma Williams earned honorable mentions.

League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold
Coach: Katy Hradsky, first season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 755.08.
Team composition: 17 total (nine seniors, one junior, six sophomores, one freshman).
Outlook: Cedar Springs is making its fourth-straight trip to the Finals and improved from seventh in 2020 to sixth last season. This will be the first appearance with Hradsky as head coach, but she was a major part of the program as the junior varsity coach the previous eight seasons after serving as co-head coach at Sparta from 2011-13. Cedar Springs posted its second-highest score, 753.58, to finish Regional runner-up. Senior Abbey Salisbury made the all-state second team last season.

League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Bishop
Co-coaches: Amber Genevich, 19th season; Shelley Popiel, fifth season
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2011-14.
Top score: 782.86
Team composition: 20 total (three seniors, three juniors, seven sophomores, seven freshmen)
Outlook: Divine Child is returning to the Finals after two seasons away, riding a wave of strong scores with four straight of 761 or better and three of those reaching at least 773. Senior Makenna Yost and juniors Reese Eberth both earned all-Regional recognition last season.

League finish: Third in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Coach: Candace Heskitt, 14th season
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up in 2020, 2015 and 2007.
Top score: 765.86 at Regional.
Team composition: 25 total (five seniors, four juniors, five sophomores, 11 freshmen).
Outlook: The Panthers have moved up from sixth in 2019 to third in 2020 to runner-up last season and enter this weekend coming off their first competition championship of this season. DeWitt is trending upward with its four highest scores coming in its four most recent events. Senior Anneliese Phillips made the all-state second team last season, and senior Hilary Ballard earned honorable mention.

League finish:
 Second in Downriver League
Coach: Alyssa Tocco, first season
Championship history: 11 MHSAA titles (most recent 2019), six runner-up finishes.
Top score: 790.18 at District
Team composition: 23 total (three seniors, nine juniors, three sophomores, eighth freshmen).
Outlook:  Carlson is back at the Finals having finished first or second in Division 2 every season from 2008-20. Tocco is a past three-time Division 2 runner-up as an athlete on Allen Park’s team and a national runner-up collegiately, and served as an assistant at Plymouth the last five seasons before taking over the Marauders. They’ve finished first or second at all of their competitions this winter. The team didn’t compete during the 2021 postseason, but senior Destiny Rogers earned an all-state honorable mention in 2020 as a sophomore on that Finals runner-up team.

League finish: First in O-K White
Coach: Carly Sienkiewicz, fifth season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 757.04
Team composition: 18 total (two seniors, nine juniors, five sophomores, two freshmen).
Outlook: Forest Hills Northern is returning to the Finals for the first time since 1998 after winning its second-straight league title and reaching Regionals for the second time in three seasons. The Huskies’ top four scores have come over their four most recent competitions, including in winning the District title with a 756.82 two weeks ago. Junior Julie Fiser earned all-District recognition last season as FHN just missed advancing.

League finish: Second in O-K Green
Coach: Lisabeth Smith, first season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 750.64 at Regional
Team composition: 23 total (four seniors, nine juniors, three sophomores, six freshmen).
Outlook: Reeths-Puffer is returning to the Finals for the first time since 2018, after winning its District and posting its top score in finishing third at the Regional. Smith is a past Reeths-Puffers cheer athlete and coached in the program immediately after graduation, later taking over the Muskegon High program before taking a few years off and returning to coach the Rockets this winter. Reeths-Puffer just missed the Finals last season, but seniors Lillyanna Schoonbeck and Summer Curtis, junior Makenna Anthony and sophomore Kendall Eek all earned all-Regional recognition.

League finish: Third in Downriver League.
Coach: Colette Norscia, 19th season
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Top score: 782.44 at District.
Team composition: 22 total (four seniors, 10 juniors, three sophomores, five freshmen).
Outlook: Anderson improved from sixth in 2020 to a close fifth last season, and its top score this season is more than six points higher than heading into last year’s Finals. The Titans have surpassed 771 three times and 761 in seven competitions. Senior Savannah Thomas and juniors Bella Plonka and Alexis Morris earned all-Regional recognition last season.

PHOTO Allen Park competes during last year’s Round 1 at Breslin Center. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

March 10, 2023

SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.

Greater DetroitThat question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”

“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.

It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.

Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.

It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.

“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”

Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.

The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.

“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”

Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.

But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.

Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.

Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.

“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”

Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.

With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.

“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.

Both also learn from each other’s experiences.

“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”

Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”

This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.

With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.

That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.

But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.

With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at keithdunlap78@gmail.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)