D3 Preview: Contenders Growing as Richmond Hopes to Reign Again

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 4, 2022

Paw Paw last year became the first team since 2014 to break into the top two at the Division 3 Competitive Cheer Finals that had been occupied in recent seasons solely by Richmond and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.

Richmond will be seeking its fourth consecutive championship Saturday at Grand Rapids’ Delta Plex. And we’ll see if Notre Dame Prep and Paw Paw are both able to make a strong push again, or if another new team might join the mix.

Division 3 competition begins at 3 p.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: Second in Blue Water Area Conference.
Coach: Katie Tomlinson, seventh season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 772.38 at Regional.
Team composition: 24 total (five seniors, six juniors, seven sophomores, six freshmen).
Outlook: Croswell-Lexington has finished fourth and fifth the last two seasons, and its top score this season is five points higher than heading into the Finals a year ago – and landed the Pioneers a third place at their Regional after they came in fourth at their District. Senior Ashley Peyerk made the all-state first team last season, and senior Taylor Johnson and sophomore Shelby Oliver made the second team.  

League finish:
 First in Central State Activities Association
Coach: Jennifer Laskey, 15th season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 747.96 at District.
Team composition: 24 total (five seniors, five juniors, four sophomores, 10 freshmen).
Outlook: Tri County is returning to the Finals after most recently finishing seventh in 2019. The Vikings opened this season with seven straight victories and eight over their first nine competitions, and their three highest scores have come over their last three events. Tri County did not compete during the postseason in 2021, but senior Vegas Hojnacki and junior Madalynn Laskey earned all-Regional recognition in 2020.

League finish:
 First in Greater Lansing Activities Conference
Coach: Kim Martin, 30th season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 757.5 at District
Team composition: 25 total (six seniors, five juniors, six sophomores, eight freshmen).
Outlook: Lakewood is returning to the Finals for the first time since placing fifth in 2018. The Vikings won their first seven competitions this season and came in second at their District, and they’ve twice surpassed 754 points. Lakewood also didn’t compete during the 2021 postseason, but seniors Hokulani Kaalakea and Elizabeth Minard both earned all-District recognition in 2020.

League finish:
 Second in Huron League
Coach: Sara Griffin, 15th season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 770.72 at Regional
Team composition: 18 total (eight seniors, three juniors, four sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: Jefferson is back at the Finals for the first time since finishing third place back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. The Bears finished sixth at their Regional last season but bounced back to qualify fourth last weekend. Senior Brianna Buchanan earned all-Regional recognition in 2021.

League finish: First in Wolverine Conference.
Coach: Stefanie Miller, 13th season
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up in 2021.
Top score: 783.56.
Team composition: 20 total (nine seniors, three juniors, five sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: Paw Paw broke into the top two last season for the first time, finishing second after coming in third in 2020. The Red Wolves have continued to surge, winning both their District and Regional over the last two weekends and posting scores of 772 or higher five times with their top score this season four points higher than a year ago heading into the Finals. A number of last year’s top athletes are leading the way again – seniors Paige Miller and Alexis Sunlin made the all-state first team last season, while seniors Rylee Goldberg and Molly Goodwin and sophomore Maya Leonard made the second team.  

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Beth Lockhart, 10th season
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), three runner-up finishes.
Top score: 784.84 at District.
Team composition: 18 total (five seniors, one junior, three sophomores, nine freshmen).
Outlook: The Fighting Irish finished third last season after eight straight top-two finishes in Division 3, and they’ll be in the mix again after finishing second to Richmond at their District and Regional. Notre Dame Prep hasn’t finished lower than second in a competition this season and has broken 780 points twice and 771 three more times. Seniors Grace Byrne and Riley Lumm made the all-state first team last season, with senior Isabella Lulaj making the second and sophomore Alaina Byrne earning honorable mention.

League finish:
 First in Capital Area Activities Conference White
Coach: Mindy Blaschka, ninth season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 770.78.
Team composition: 19 total (six seniors, three juniors, nine sophomores, one freshman).
Outlook: The Raiders have advanced to the Finals for the first time after winning their fourth-straight league and second-straight District titles. Portland also was runner-up at its Regional and has scored 762 or higher its last three competitions. Seniors Catherine Svanda, Avery Brennan and Adrienne Hinds and junior Lily Buckland made the all-District first team last season.

League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference.
Coach: Kelli Matthes, 14th season
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2021), five runner-up finishes.
Top score: 789.78 at District.
Team composition: 26 total (eight seniors, six juniors, three sophomores, nine freshmen).
Outlook: Richmond has won three straight Division 3 titles and enters with a top score eight points higher than their best heading into last season’s Finals. The Blue Devils have won all of their competitions this season and scored 783 or higher in six including 786 to win their District and Regional. Ten of the team’s 12 all-staters are back. Seniors Makenna Parker, Hannah Jeroue, Savanna Krywy, Ava Moskwa and Gracie Ellis all made the first team last season, while senior Eryn Hart and juniors Ella Allen and Nicole Ostaszewski made the second team and junior Esther Lopiccolo and sophomore Annabell Loftis earned honorable mentions.  

PHOTO Richmond competes during last year’s Round 3 at Breslin Center. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)