D4 Preview: Field Filled with 1st-Title Hopefuls

March 6, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Six of eight competitive cheer teams taking the mat in Division 4 on Saturday at Grand Rapids’ Delta Plex will be competing this weekend for their first MHSAA Finals championship in the sport.

In fact, two will be appearing at the Finals for the first time, and two more have only debuted over the last three seasons.

That could make for some interesting possibilities, as reigning champion Pewamo-Westphalia and last year’s runner-up Hudson again lead the chase – but with a number of contenders gaining on historic opportunities.

Below are glances at all eight teams competing for this year’s title. Round 1 begins at 2 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 Cascades Conference.
Coach: Jessica Sword, 13th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 763.76.
Team composition: 20 total (seven seniors, four juniors, six sophomores, three freshmen)
Outlook: Addison is headed back to the Finals for the second time in three seasons and second time ever, this time with a Regional runner-up finish to Hudson. Sword grew up in the Hudson program – her mother Kelly Bailey is the longtime Tigers coach – and Sword has built Addison in a program capable of challenging the elite. The Panthers’ best Round 3 score this season of 316.3 ranks second-highest in Division 3, and their top Round 2 (221.9), total, and average total (763.8) scores all rank fourth. Seniors Abigail Zacharias, Christina Bailey and Jenica Sword all earned all-Regional honors last season. 

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Sarah Kope, first season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 732.74 at the Regional.
Team composition: 9 total (two seniors, one junior, four sophomores, two freshmen)
Outlook: Madison ran its streak of third-place Finals finishes to three straight last season. Kope served as an assistant for all three of those teams before taking over her alma mater this winter. The Trojans steadily have built to this stage this winter, with their top three total scores coming in their three most recent meets. Seniors Abbey Dusseau-Garno and Hannah Lobkovich both made the all-state first team last season for the second time.

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Lisa Clavier, 11th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 757.12.
Team composition: 9 total (five seniors, three juniors, one sophomore)
Outlook: East Jordan will make its first appearance at the Finals, and with some interesting possibilities. The Red Devils’ top Round 1 score (237.1) also is tops in Division 4 this season, while their best Round 2 (219.9), overall and average overall (711.6) scores all rank fifth. They took first or second in nine of 12 meets this season. Seniors Jaelyn Snyder, Lilly Ziebarth, Maggie Stevenson and junior Lexi Rake all earned all-Regional recognition in 2019.

League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver
Coach: Sue Smith, eighth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 742.34.
Team composition: 14 total (one senior, seven juniors, five sophomores, one freshman)
Outlook: After making the Finals last season for the first time, NorthPointe is headed back again after winning a third-straight league title and posting its second-highest total score of this winter to finish second at its Regional. Round 3 is a strength, as the Mustangs’ top score of 306.0 ranks sixth in Division 4. Junior Kristi Smith made the all-state first team last season, and junior Malia Baugh made the second team.

League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Kelly Bailey, 23rd season
Championship history: Division 4 champion 2018, six runner-up finishes. 
Top score: 777.38.
Team composition: 22 total (five seniors, eight juniors, five sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: Last season’s runner-up finish was Hudson’s third-straight placing in the top two, and the Tigers look strong to make another run at the title. All of their total scores this season are above 700, and their best total score is 10 points higher than last year’s heading into the Finals. They’ve won every competition but one, and all of their high round scores rank fourth or higher in Division 4, with their best Round 2 (227.6) second on that list. Although Hudson’s all-staters from last season are not posted, seniors Summer Walker, Anna Valdez, Lyndsey Tanner, Savanna Proudfoot and Anna Loar; juniors Kaley Bloomer, Ahna Marry, Kallahan Marry and Emma Shirey; and sophomore Maize Sholl all earned all-Regional recognition in 2019.

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Nicole Lasak, seventh season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 764.64 at the District.
Team composition: 7 total (three seniors, two juniors, two sophomores)
Outlook: Munising has a great opportunity to improve on last season’s eighth-place finish. The Mustangs won eight of their first nine competitions this winter with a second in the ninth before finishing third at their Regional. All but their first total score of this season has been 714 or higher. All of their best round scores rank fourth or higher in Division 4 – the 229.8 Round 2 is tops on that list – and their average total score of 742.5 ranks second and is 42.5 points higher than a year ago. Senior Kali Donnelly made the all-state first team last season, and junior Marae Ake made the second.

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Staci Myers, 13th season
Championship history: Nine MHSAA titles (most recent 2019), 10 runner-up finishes.
Top score: 779.24.
Team composition: 15 total (four seniors, four juniors, four sophomores, three freshmen)
Outlook: The Pirates went from eighth in 2018 to champion a year ago, and they haven’t slowed down with first or second places at every competition and wins at their District and Regional. Their 745.4 average total score in tops in Division 4 and would rank sixth in Division 3 and 10th in Division 2. All three round high scores are among the top three in Division 4, with the best Round 3 (316.7) ranking first. Senior Isabelle Droste and sophomore Lindsey Pohl made the all-state first team last season, while junior Ellie Pohl made the second team and senior Olivia Richards, junior Ella Smith and sophomore Halie Myers earned honorable mentions.

League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference West
Coach: Jetta Stimac, fourth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 752.04 at the District.
Team composition: 18 total (seven seniors, four juniors, four sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: St. Charles also will be making its Finals debut after winning its league and District and placing fourth at its Regional. The Bulldogs have two high round scores among the top seven in Division 4 for those respective rounds, with their best Round 3 (311.6) ranking fifth. Senior Addison Stimac earned all-Regional recognition last season, while senior Lauren Rankin and junior Breya Lennox made the all-District first team.

PHOTO: Munising athletes celebrate winning their District at East Jordan two weeks ago. (Photo by Sports in Motion.)

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