D3 Preview: New Contenders Aim to Rise

March 1, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

For five straight seasons, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep has finished first and Richmond second at the Division 3 Competitive Cheer Finals at Grand Rapids Delta Plex.

Over the past two weekends, they’ve faced off twice again – the Fighting Irish winning the District by eight hundredths of a point, before Richmond won their Regional matchup a week later by just more than four points.

But there are others who would love to break up that dominance at the top. Below are glances at all eight teams competing Saturday. Division 3 begins at 6 p.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 Tri-Valley Conference West and overall
Coach: Laura Capen, eighth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 749.8 at the District.
Team composition: 14 total (four seniors, two juniors, six sophomores, two freshmen)
Outlook: Capen, who started the school’s competitive cheer program in 2010-11, will bring the Panthers to the Finals for the first time. Alma finished first or second in all of its events but the Regional, although its score last weekend was its third highest this winter. Seniors Cornelia Gotaas and Karen Nguyen made the all-District first team last season.

League finish: Tied for first in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Co-coaches: Yvonne Ridge, 16th season; Liz Hoogstra, third season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 777.10.
Team composition: 20 total (six seniors, five juniors, three sophomores, six freshmen)
Outlook: Charlotte has posted sixth-place Finals finishes the last two seasons (in Division 2 in 2017). The Orioles are set to make a jump with the third-highest average total score (777.1) in the division and top-three best scores in all three rounds. Senior Lauren Wietzke made the all-state first team last season, while senior Madyson Conklin made the second and senior Mackenzie Bleisch earned honorable mention.

League finish: First in O-K Blue
Coach: Hayley Robinson, first season
Championship history: Division 3 champions 2011 and 2009, three runner-up finishes.
Top score: 739.4 at the Regional.
Team composition: 22 total (four seniors, three juniors, eight sophomores, seven freshmen)
Outlook: Robinson, a 2015 graduate, has taken over the program this season after the retirement of longtime coach Kathy Felty – and the success has continued. Comstock Park added another league title and won its District, and will look to improve on last season’s eighth-place Finals finish. Senior Shaelyn Scott earned all-state honorable mention a year ago.

League finish: First in Central State Activities Association
Coach: Jennifer Laskey, 12th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 748.26 at the Regional.
Team composition: 21 total (11 seniors, two juniors, four sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: Tri-County won its fourth straight league title and first Regional championship under Laskey to return to the Finals for the fifth time in seven seasons. The Vikings upped their best total scores from the regular season by 20 points at the District and Regional. Senior Cylee Weining made the all-Regional second team last season.

League finish: First in Huron League
Coach: Sara Griffin, 11th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 773.12
Team composition: 21 total (seven seniors, three juniors, 11 freshmen)
Outlook: Jefferson has finished third the last two seasons as it’s continued to push the annual favorites, and should do so again. The Bears’ average total score of 762.4 ranks third in Division 3, and they’ve totaled more than 770 three times this winter. Junior Jaiden St. Andre made the all-state first team last season, while junior Amara Gould made the second team and senior Sarah Johnson earned honorable mention.

League finish: First in Wolverine Conference
Coach: Stefanie Miller, 10th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.

Top score: 776.02.
Team composition: 22 total (seven juniors, six sophomores, nine freshmen)
Outlook: Paw Paw missed the Finals last season for the first time since 2010, but came back to win 10 of 13 events this winter including its District. The top score noted above was the fourth-highest in the division, and the team’s best Round 3 (318.9) ranks third. Junior Joscelin Stewart earned all-Regional honorable mention last season.

League finish: Does not participate in a league.
Coach: Beth Campbell, seventh season
Championship history: Division 3 champions 2014-18, runner-up 2013.

Top score: 787.28
Team composition: 29 total (five seniors, five juniors, nine sophomores, 10 freshmen)
Outlook: Notre Dame Prep has broken 785 points its last two events and at least 771 over its last five. It trails only Richmond with an average score of 771.5, and the Fighting Irish have posted the division’s high Round 1 (238.2). A large group of standouts will return to Grand Rapids: senior Katie Lee made the all-state first team last season, while senior Natalie Johnson and juniors Megan Sollmer and Katie Topoleski made the second team and seniors Mae Ida Bryan and Paige Gollinger earned honorable mentions.

League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Coach: Kelli Matthes, 11th season
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2013 and 2012, runner-up five times.

Top score: 789.08 at the Regional.
Team composition: 29 total (seven seniors, 11 juniors, three sophomores, eight freshmen)
Outlook: As noted, Richmond bounced back from the close District runner-up finish to win the Regional by four points, and the Blue Devils have gone over 783 seven times including in their last four events. They own the top Round 2 (232.6), Round 3 (320.5), total and average total (779.8) scores in the division. Nearly all of the team’s best from 2018 are back for another run – seniors Kendal Valentine and Hannah Lopiccolo and junior Nicole Logghe made the all-state first team last season, while seniors Jordan Anthony and Megan McCallister and junior Madison Danielle made the second and junior Jordan Valentine earned honorable mention.

PHOTO: Alma will be making its first MHSAA Finals appearance; here, the Panthers compete at the Alma College Cheer Fest. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)