D2 Preview: Downriver Powers Set Pace

March 6, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

What’s become an annual season-long tussle the last few seasons between Downriver League rivals Allen Park and Gibraltar Carlson is headed for another conclusion Saturday morning at the Grand Rapids Delta Plex.

They’ve once again traded top performances, Carlson winning the league and Allen Park the Regional, and together they’ve combined to win the last 12 Division 2 competitive cheer championships. Carlson is the reigning back-to-back title winner, while Allen Park has finished runner-up these last two seasons and three of the last four. When Allen Park won in 2017, Carlson came in second.

Allen Park has the top Round 2 (233.0), Round 3 (323.8) and total score (794.2) in the state this season, regardless of division, and is second in Round 1 (239.5). Carlson has set the pace in Round 1 (239.6) statewide with the second best overall score (794.1) in any division and second-best Round 2 and 3 in Division 2.

And of course, there are challengers with the capabilities to push the powers – and they’ve posted scores to show that potential.   

Below are glances at all eight teams. Round 1 begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, and the event in its entirety will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a subscription basis. Click here for the Finals rotation schedule and other important information.

League finish: Second in Downriver League
Coach: Julie Goodwin, 15
th season
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2017 and 2010, four runner-up finishes.
Top score: 794.20 at the District.
Team composition: 28 total (two seniors, 11 juniors, eight sophomores, seven freshmen)
Outlook: As noted above, Allen Park appears to be surging of late in its back-and-forth with Carlson. The Jaguars have the top Round 2 (233.0), Round 3 (323.8) and overall (794.2) scores posted in Division 2 this season, and the Round 3 and overall scores are the highest in the state regardless of division. They’ve won eight meets this winter and finished second in their other three. Senior Jessika Palmarchuk and junior Skyler Longton made the all-state second team last season, and sophomore Cassidy Kuhn earned honorable mention.  

League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Coach: Anne Olszewski, sixth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 773.10.
Team composition: 18 total (eight seniors, four juniors, five sophomores, one freshman)
Outlook: Cedar Springs is looking to build on last season’s fifth-place finish that saw the Red Hawks miss fourth by less than a point. Their strongest round might be Round 1, where their best of 234.1 ranks eighth in Division 2 this season, and they’ve posted their top two overall scores over their last three events. Senior Paige Pierson made the all-state first team last season, and senior Zoe Castor made the second.

League finish:
 Second in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Co-coaches: Yvonne Ridge/Liz Hoogstra, 18th and 15th seasons
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 782.36.
Team composition: 24 total (four seniors, five juniors, seven sophomores, eight freshmen)
Outlook: Charlotte finished fourth in Division 3 last season after back-to-back sixth places, one each in Divisions 2 and 3. The Orioles’ scores this winter point to another possible top-half finish – all three of their best-round scores rank among the top five posted in Division 2, with their best Round 2 (230.5) and Round 3 (319.6) both ranking fourth. Senior Erica Brock made the all-state second team in Division 3 last season, and junior Julia Phillips and sophomore Dakota Gerard both earned honorable mentions.

League finish: First in CAAC Red
Coach: Candace Heskitt, 12
th season
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2015 and 2007.
Top score: 789.78.
Team composition: 28 total (10 seniors, seven juniors, nine sophomores, two freshmen)
Outlook: DeWitt has finished sixth the last two seasons but appears on the verge of a jump with their best round scores all ranking among the top four in Division 2 this season, and their best Round 2 (231.1), Round 3 (321.3) and total score all posting third. The Panthers have placed first at eight of their last nine competitions and won their Regional by nearly seven points. Junior Aubrey McKinley made the all-state first team last season, while junior Gabrielle Cooney made the second.

League finish: First in Downriver League
Coach: Emily Howard, first season
Championship history: 11 MHSAA titles (most recent 2019), five runner-up finishes.
Top score: 794.08
Team composition: 26 total (eight seniors, seven juniors, seven sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: Carlson has a new coach for the second straight season, but Howard is plenty familiar with the program’s expectations as she was an assistant during last year’s championship run and also has coached at the middle school level in the district. The Marauders haven’t missed a beat, finishing first at eight competitions and second at the other two, and scoring over 785 total six times. Howard inherited a championship cast with seniors Samantha Hamel and Elliah Shank and juniors Alex Stewart and Maguire Lindisch all returning all-state first teamers, seniors Rylee Demers and Sarah Klim back after making the second team last season and seniors Amelia Trueblood and Isabella Trueblood and Skylar Yakowich having earned honorable mention in 2019.

League finish: First in O-K Black
Coach: Amanda Heethuis, 13
th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 779.90.
Team composition: 29 total (six seniors, 10 juniors, nine sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: The Sailors will again look to make a run at the top two with last season’s third place finish their second in three years. Their average total score of 764.3 is a good sign as it ranks third in Division 2. Mona Shores has won 10 competitions and finished second at its other two, led by an experienced cast. Senior Logan Potts made the all-state first team last season, while senior Madilyn Ogle and sophomore Carys Mitchell made the second team and junior Brooklin Yokubonus earned honorable mention.

League finish: Fourth in Downriver League
Coach: Colette Norscia, 17th season (second of second tenure)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Top score: 774.54 at the Regional.
Team composition: 21 total (one senior, three juniors, six sophomores, 11 freshmen)
Outlook: Norscia guided a team with only four upperclassmen through the competitive Downriver League and back to the Finals after a season away. Anderson finished fourth at its Regional, but its score would’ve won the other Regional in this division. Round 2 might be the strength, as the Titans’ best score of 228.0 ranks eighth in Division 2. Senior Nevaeh Doucet, junior Breanna Unis and sophomore Alivia Ensign earned all-District recognition in 2019.

League finish: First in Lakes Valley Conference
Co-coaches: Amber Stocks and Michelle Frey, 10th seasons
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 783.50 at the Regional.
Team composition: 21 total (seven seniors, six juniors, five sophomores, three freshmen)
Outlook: After debuting at the Finals last season and finishing eighth, Western will return for the second year in a row and with the potential to climb. Western’s best Round 1 score this season (237.6) ranks third in Division 2, while it total score at the Regional was the fourth highest in the division this winter. Senior Makayla Sheppy earned all-state honorable mention last season while juniors Jocelyn Peets and Jordan Zayed earned all-Regional honors.

PHOTO: Gibraltar Carlson competes during its Division 2 Regional; it will look to win a third-straight Finals championship this weekend. (Photo courtesy of the Carlson competitive cheer program.)

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