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.)

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