D2 Preview: Downriver Powers Set Tone

March 1, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Gibraltar Carlson and Allen Park have combined to win the last 11 Division 2 competitive cheer championships and also earn five of the runner-up places during that time.

The Downriver League rivals will be favorites again at Saturday’s Division 2 Finals at the Grand Rapids Delta Plex. But a number of competitors have been pushing to break into the top spots – and another will compete at this level for the first time this weekend.

Below are glances at all eight teams competing Saturday. Division 2 begins at 10 a.m. and will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a subscription basis. Click here for the Finals draws and other important information.

League finish: First in Downriver League
Coach: Julie Goodwin, 14th season
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2017 and 2010, three runner-up finishes.
Top score: 794.46 at the Regional.
Team composition: 26 total (seven seniors, three juniors, 11 sophomores, five freshmen)
Outlook: Allen Park has finished first or second the last three seasons, coming in runner-up a year ago. The Jaguars finished ahead of rival Gibraltar Carlson in the league and at Regional, by nine tenths of a point at the latter, and they’ve posted the top scores in Division 2 in Round 2 (233.1), Round 3 (322.7) and total. In fact, the top total score above and Allen Park’s average of 784.4 are the highest in the state, regardless of division. Seniors Lyric Spears and Rylie Davis made the all-state first team last season, while senior Angela Sammut made the second and senior Sydney Bain and junior Jessika Palmarchuk earned honorable mentions.  

League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Coach: Anne Olszewski, fifth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 778.5 at the District.
Team composition: 19 total (four seniors, eight juniors, three sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: Cedar Springs is returning to the Finals for the first time since 2011 after posting two of its top three total scores during the postseason. The Red Hawks’ average total score of 748.8 ranks sixth in Division 2. Seniors Gabby Endres, Elayna Male and Emily Pierson all earned all-Regional honors last season.

League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League
Coach: Shelley Popiel, second season
Championship history: Four runner-up finishes (most recent 2014).

Top score: 781.36 at the Regional.
Team composition: 25 total (six seniors, 10 juniors, five sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: Divine Child finished seventh last season and looks like a strong possibility to take a few steps up with the third-highest average total score in Division 2 at 766.8. The Round 1 (236.3) and Round 3 (319.2) top scores also rank among the top four in the division. Senior Lauren Elliott and juniors Emily LaFeve and Natalie Santostasi all earned all-Regional honors last season.

League finish: Tied for first in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Coach: Candace Heskitt, 11th season
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2015 and 2007.

Top score: 778.64 at the District.
Team composition: 25 total (three seniors, seven juniors, eight sophomores, five freshmen)
Outlook: The Panthers returned to the Finals last season and finished sixth, and enter this weekend coming off an eighth straight league championship and first District and Regional titles since finishing Finals runner-up in 2015. DeWitt surges in Round 3, with its top score of 319.6 ranking third in Division 2. Sophomores Aubrey McKinley and Gabby Cooney both earned all-Regional recognition in 2018.

League finish: Second in Downriver League
Coach: Ann Hajec, first season
Championship history: 10 MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), five runner-up finishes.

Top score: 793.56
Team composition: 25 total (three seniors, eight juniors, seven sophomores, seven freshmen)
Outlook: Carlson has won a combined seven Division 2 titles under a combined three coaches this decade, and will attempt to make it eight with four leaders as 2011-13 all-stater Hajec brings her first team to the Delta Plex. The Marauders have continued to thrive with the top Round 1 (239.2) score in the division and second-highest in Round 2 (233), Round 3 (321.4) and total. Senior Summer Bojarski and sophomore Maguire Lindisch made the all-state first team last season, while senior Kennedy Stewart, junior Sarah Klim and sophomore Alex Stewart made the second team and juniors Rylee Demers and Elliah Shank earned honorable mentions.

League finish: Second in O-K Black
Coach: Bethany Schutter, first season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.

Top score: 770.54 at the District.
Team composition: 24 total (seven seniors, six juniors, seven sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: Kenowa Hills moved up from fifth in 2017 to third last season, its second third place in three years. It’s riding some momentum into this weekend with two wins and its top two scores over the last four events. Seniors Taylor Buskard and Braeanna Mull made the all-state second team last season, and junior Kaylee Lenartz earned honorable mention.

League finish: First in O-K Black
Coach: Amanda Heethuis, 12th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 781.32
Team composition: 28 total (six seniors, five juniors, eight sophomores, nine freshmen)
Outlook: Mona Shores has finished third and fourth, respectively, at the last two Finals, and should be the mix again with its average score of 765.4 ranking fourth in Division 2 along with its top scores in Round 1 (tied – 235.4) and Round 2 (230.2). Junior Logan Potts earned all-state honorable mention last season.

League finish: First in Lakes Valley Conference
Co-coaches: Amber Stocks and Michelle Frey, ninth seasons
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 784.72 at the Regional.
Team composition: 24 total (five seniors, seven juniors, eight sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: Western will be competing at the MHSAA Finals for the first time after posting its top two total scores of the season at the District and Regional. The Warriors could make a splash – their average total score this season (757.5) ranks fifth in Division 2, while the Regional score was the third-highest this winter and their top scores for all three rounds also rank among the top five. Senior Madison Homer and junior Makayla Sheppy earned all-District second-team honors last season in Division 1.

PHOTO: Allen Park competes during the regular season; the Jaguars are among favorites again in Division 2. (Photo courtesy of the Allen Park 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