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.
DEARBORN DIVINE CHILD
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.
GRAND RAPIDS FOREST HILLS NORTHERN
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.)
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