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.)

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