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.)

Koehler Gives State Power Rochester Another Championship-Caliber Leader

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

December 8, 2022

ROCHESTER HILLS – Understandably, Rochester competitive cheer head coach Samantha Koehler might not know exactly the emotions she will feel Friday.

Greater DetroitAfter all, the occasion will mark a first in more than four decades with a Rochester program that’s historically been considered the gold standard in the state.

When the Falcons compete at their first competition of the season at Troy, it will be the first time since 1981 that somebody other than the legendary Susan Wood will be at the helm of the program.

“Even with a change in leadership, we’re eager to show the world that Rochester cheer is back and better than ever,” Koehler said.

While there will probably be some nervousness, it also might be a relief to actually get into competition mode after an offseason of transition.

Following Rochester’s fifth-place finish in March at the Division 1 Final, Wood announced her retirement after 41 years as head coach.

All Wood (formerly Susan McVeigh) did during her tenure was lead Rochester to 14 MHSAA Finals championships and three runner-up finishes between 1994 and 2017.

She also led Rochester to five Michigan Cheerleading Coaches Association state titles and three runner-up finishes before competitive cheerleading became an MHSAA-sponsored sport in 1994.

In 36 out of 41 years with Wood in charge, Rochester competed in Finals of either MHSAA or MCCA state tournaments.

But rather than look at this as having to replace an irreplaceable legend, Koehler is looking at it as a chance to continue Rochester’s rich tradition – and such an opportunity was simply too good to pass up.

Koehler, with her Plymouth assistants, coach their team during the 2020 Division 1 Final. “Yes, this position comes with a lot of high expectations and pressure,” Koehler admitted, while also praising the parents and team members who have helped make the transition easier. “But like George S. Patton, Jr. once said, pressure makes diamonds.”

Koehler has had plenty of success as well, having spent the last seven years as head coach at Plymouth High School, where she was named Michigan cheer Coach of the Year in 2020 after leading Plymouth to a runner-up finish in Division 1.

She also has served as the head cheerleading coach at Wayne State University and on the board for the state coaches association.

“We wanted somebody with experience that coached at a high level and had success at a high level, because that’s where we are,” Rochester athletic director Dean Allen said. “The bar is high, and keep it there. Just keep Rochester cheer as the preeminent program in the state of Michigan. That was our goal.”

Allen said the biggest challenge has been for Koehler to balance out bringing in her own ideas, but also maintaining traditions that have made the program what it is.

So far, so good.

“She’s been able to do that,” Allen said.

While the last few months have been all about getting to know her new team and community, the coming winter will be about trying to get Rochester back on top at the Finals in March.

The Falcons haven’t won Division 1 since 2017, and have seen city rivals Stoney Creek (in 2019) and Rochester Adams (2020 and 2021) claim the last three championships between them.

“We are fortunate enough to compete against two of the best teams in the state frequently throughout the season,” Koehler said. “Competing against Adams and Stoney betters our program by motivating athletes and coaches to be the best we can be each and every day. With such a talented and dedicated group of athletes, we are excited and eager to challenge our city rivals for that state championship.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at keithdunlap78@gmail.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Samantha Koehler, middle, is taking over the Rochester High competitive cheer program this season. (Middle) Koehler, with her Plymouth assistants, coach their team during the 2020 Division 1 Final. (Top photo courtesy of Dean Allen/Rochester Athletics. Middle photo by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)