D4 Preview: Defending a Dynasty

March 6, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Michigan Center has built a Division 4 dynasty with its five MHSAA competitive cheer titles over the last six seasons.

But the Cardinals will have to fend another former dynasty this weekend if they are to extend that impressive streak.

Seven-time champ Breckenridge arguably is the favorite entering Saturday’s meet, which begins at 2 p.m., and eight-time champ Pewamo-Westphalia is in the mix again as well. 

Following are glances at all eight Division 4 teams competing at the Grand Rapids DeltaPlex. All four Finals will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a subscription basis.

Rank: No. 1.
League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference West.
Co-coaches: Deb Gaines, 29th season; Jenna Graham, seventh season.
Championship history: Seven MHSAA titles (most recent 2007), one runner-up finish.
Top score: 768.46.
Team composition: 16 total (seven juniors, five sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: In its second season back as a program, Breckenridge ascended to the top rank heading into the postseason and won its District and Regional the last two weekends. Total, the Huskies have won 10 events and own the highest scores per round and overall in Division 4. They finished fifth in Division 4 in 2014 after six seasons without a program, but this time return all-state first-team sophomore Alexandria Gillis, second-team junior Lindsey Reichard and sophomore Madison Smith and honorable mention junior Alicia Gutierrez and sophomore Harley Conklin.

Rank: No. 7.
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference.
Coach: Jennifer Hlady, eighth season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 705.72.
Team composition: 13 total (three seniors, five juniors, four sophomores, one freshman).
Outlook: Hlady started the Hart competitive program in 2007-08 and has led the team to five straight league titles and back to the Finals after it missed last season. The Pirates have finished third or better in all of their events this winter and won their District for the second time in three years. Sophomore Erika Wadel made the all-region second team last season.

Rank: No. 2.
League finish: First in Jack Pine Conference.
Coach: Celeste Kubiak, ninth season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 754.1.
Team composition: 11 total (six seniors, four juniors, one freshman).
Outlook: Houghton Lake finished sixth at last season’s Final but should be in contention Saturday after posting the second-highest Round 1 (234.1), Round 2 (222.2) and overall scores in Division 4 this season. The Bobcats won 12 of their first 13 events this winter, finishing second only at the early-season Merrill Invitational. Senior Lauren Hooper made the all-state first team in 2014, while senior Vanessa Wallace made the second and senior Brooklyn Cryderman earned an honorable mention.

Rank: No. 4.
League finish: Second in Lenawee County Athletic Association.
Coach: Kelly Bailey, 18th season.
Championship history: Four runner-up finishes (most recent 2010).
Top score: 742.12 at the Regional.
Team composition: 18 total (three seniors, eight juniors, four sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: Hudson has finished third in Division 4 the last three seasons and enters with the fifth-best scores in all three rounds and overall this winter. The Tigers have scored 727 or better four times including in their last three events. Junior Takota Voelzke made the all-state first team last season, while seniors Rianna Middleton and Cassee Milligan made the second and senior Shian Beekel earned honorable mention.

Rank: No. 8.
League finish: Does not participate in a league.
Coach: Lisa Selling, first season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 694.86.
Team composition: 10 total (five seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, one freshman).
Outlook: The Emeralds are returning to the Finals for the sixth time in seven seasons after improving one spot to seventh last winter. Manistique also came downstate earlier this season and took fourth among a strong field at the Merrill Invitational. Senior Becca Bowers made the all-state first team in 2014, and senior Katie Davis made the second team.

Rank: No. 3.
League finish: First in Cascades Conference.
Coach: Jessica Trefry, 14th season.
Championship history: Five Division 4 titles (most recent 2014).
Top score: 750.78.
Team composition: 16 total (seven seniors, six juniors, three sophomores).
Outlook: The Cardinals are second only to Breckenridge in average overall score this year and have posted three of their top five scores over the last four events. A number of last season’s standouts will lead again Saturday; senior Michele Martin and junior Victoria Corwin are returning all-state first-teamers, while seniors Emily Kellogg and Ashley Sierminski and junior Olivia Manke made the second team and senior Vivian Horsch and junior Kali Stiles earned honorable mentions.

Rank: No. 6
League finish: Does not participate in a league.
Coach: Staci Myers, eighth season.
Championship history: Eight MHSAA titles (most recent 2010), nine runner-up finishes.
Top score: 746.08 at the Regional.
Team composition: 13 total (six seniors, four sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: Pewamo-Westphalia missed last season’s Finals by one spot at Regionals but are back this weekend looking to build on three straight Finals runner-up finishes from 2011-13. The Pirates have pushed their scores upward throughout the season and rank among the top four in the division for high scores in each round and overall. Senior Jilian Jegla made the all-region first team last season.

Rank: Unranked.
League finish: Second in West Michigan Conference.
Coach: Penny Grinage-Guy, 17th season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 690.8.
Team composition: 16 total (two seniors, nine juniors, four sophomores, one freshman).
Outlook: Shelby is headed back to the Finals for the first time since 2012. The team has only two seniors but a veteran coach in Grinage-Guy, who formerly coached at Otsego and Zion-Benton Township in Illinois during the 1980s and 90s and also at Western Michigan University. The Tigers have finished among the top three in their last six events, finishing second to Hart in both the league and District. Juniors Rebecca Kukla and Brittany Shellhouse made the all-district first team last season.

PHOTO: Breckenridge finished fifth in Division 4 last season with a roster of all underclassmen, but is the likely favorite Saturday. 

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