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.)

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.)