D3 Preview: New Contenders Rising

March 6, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half

Richmond and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep have dominated Division 3 competitive cheer for most of the last decade, combining to win the last eight championships and finish runner-up seven times over the last nine seasons.

That may or may not come to an end this weekend at Grand Rapids’ Delta Plex – but there are some strong candidates making it look possible.

Below are glances at all eight teams competing for this year’s title. Round 1 begins at 6 p.m. Saturday, and the event in its entirety will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a subscription basis. Click here for the Finals rotation schedule and other important information.

League finish: First in Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference
Coach: Laurie White, 11th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 754.06.
Team composition: 17 total (five seniors, four juniors, four sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: White has built a second Finals-qualifying cheer program, with Berrien Springs on the way to its first appearance after she also started Manistique’s program and led it to multiple MHSAA championship meets. The Shamrocks qualified for the Regionals for the first time just four years ago, but finished third last weekend to book its first trip to the Delta Plex. Berrien Springs also won all eight of its regular-season competitions this winter. Senior Elizabeth Haygood earned all-Regional honorable mention last season.

League finish: First in O-K Blue
Coach: Hayley Strickland, second season
Championship history: Division 3 champions 2011 and 2009, three runner-up finishes.
Top score: 759.65 at the District.
Team composition: 20 total (three seniors, six juniors, five sophomores, six freshmen)
Outlook: Comstock Park improved from eighth in 2018 to sixth last season, and its highest total score this winter is 20 points higher than its best from a season ago. The Panthers have won eight competitions and finished second at their Regional. Junior Niyah Gill made the all-state second team last season, and senior Elizabeth Howard earned an honorable mention.

League finish: Second in Blue Water Area Conference
Co-coaches: Katie Tomlinson, fifth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 779.32.
Team composition: 22 total (eight seniors, three juniors, four sophomores, seven freshmen)
Outlook: Croswell-Lexington also will be making its first trip to the Finals, having finished third at its Regional after missing the cut by two spots last year. The Pioneers placed at least third at all of their competitions this winter and second or first at 10 of 12 – especially impressive with reigning Division 3 champion Richmond topping the BWAC, District and Regional, and Croswell-Lexington also finishing ahead of Notre Dame Prep at the District. Seniors Avery Falter and Ashley Robertson both earned all-Regional recognition last season.

League finish: Does not compete in a league
Coach: Samantha Griebel, first season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 742.10.
Team composition: 22 total (three seniors, nine juniors, five sophomores, five freshmen)
Outlook: Escanaba is back at the Finals after finishing a Regional place short of qualifying a year ago, this time led by first-year head coach Griebel after she formerly led the middle school program. The Eskymos may be strongest in Round 3, where their top score this season (315.6) ranks seventh in Division 3. Sophomore Alivia Royer earned all-Regional recognition in 2019.  

League finish: Second in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Michelle Goetz, fourth season
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1994. 
Top score: 769.70.
Team composition: 26 total (five seniors, six juniors, 10 sophomores, five freshmen)
Outlook: Goetz, who helped Onsted to a Regional title as an athlete in 2006, has the team back at the Finals for the first time since 2015. The Wildcats placed first or second at their first nine competitions and second in the league only to Division 4 powerhouse Hudson. Saturday could see a big finish, as Onsted’s best scores in Round 1 (233.0), Round 2 (226.9) and total all rank fifth in Division 3. Senior Claire Williams earned all-Regional recognition last season.

League finish: First in Wolverine Conference
Coach: Stefanie Miller, 11
th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 787.48 at the District.
Team composition: 23 total (six seniors, three juniors, nine sophomores, five freshmen)
Outlook: Paw Paw returned to the Finals last season with a fifth-place finish and will be pushing for more Saturday with the top Round 3 (321.3), second-highest Round 1 (235.8) and third-highest Round 2 (230.4) scores in Division 3 this season. Paw Paw also has won 12 of its 13 competitions, including the District and Regional, led by an experienced group. Junior Mackenzie Miller made the all-state first team last season, while senior Joscelin Stewart and sophomore Paige Miller made the second and sophomores Rylee Goldberg and Alexis Sunlin earned honorable mentions.

League finish: Does not participate in a league.
Coach: Beth Campbell, eighth season
Championship history: Division 3 champions 2014-18, runner-up 2013 and 2019.
Top score: 776.80 at the Regional.
Team composition: 21 total (four seniors, four juniors, six sophomores, seven freshmen)
Outlook: The Fighting Irish saw their championship streak end at five last season, as they finished second. But they’ll no doubt be in the mix again Saturday, as once again their best scores rank with the best in Division 3 this winter. Their best scores in every round and overall rank among the top four, with their top Round 1 (234.4) ranking third in the division. Notre Dame Prep came back to finish second only to Richmond at their Regional after coming in third at the District. Senior Megan Sollmer made the all-state first team last season, while seniors Ava Simony and Katherine Topoleski and sophomore Grace Byrne made the second and sophomore Riley Lumm earned honorable mention.

League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Coach: Kelli Matthes, 12
th season
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2019, 2013 and 2012, runner-up five times.
Top score: 787.82 at the Regional.
Team composition: 28 total (10 seniors, two juniors, eight sophomores, eight freshmen)
Outlook: After taking back the championship last season, its first since winning back-to-back in 2012 and 2013, Richmond has been nearly unstoppable winning 10 of its 11 competitions including District and Regional meets ahead of Notre Dame Prep. Richmond’s average total score this season of 769.8 is nine points better than the rest of Division 3, and its top Round 1 (238.2) and Round 2 (231.1) both set the pace as well. Seniors Madison Daniel, Jordan Valentine and Emily Mikolasik and sophomore Makenna Parker all made the all-state first team last season, while senior Nicole Logghe made the second and seniors Olivia Poelker and Julia Akerley earned honorable mention.

PHOTO: Paw Paw competes two weekends ago on the way to claiming a District championship. (Photo by 1001 Words Photography.)

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