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.)

Several Officials Give Time, Talents to Grant $21,000 in Scholarships at 22nd LMCCOA Meet

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

February 14, 2024

Jane Plaisted thinks it's one of those rare high school sporting events where scores and winners are secondary.

Instead, the focus of the recent Lake Michigan Competitive Cheer Officials Association meet is what the event could do for 75 seniors who competed in the sprawling 45-team meet at Byron Center.

All proceeds from the event went to fund scholarships for seniors who opted to write essays and then competed in the annual 22-year-old, three-division meet. The competition, which was completely run by LMCCOA judges, raised $21,000 to up its fundraising total to over $200,000 since the meet originated in 2001.

"It was a glorious day," said Plaisted, an LMCCOA member who has participated in 15 of the competitions. "The girls are happy, we're happy to give our time and it's such a positive day. We love being a part of it."

The event drew teams from as far away as St. Johns, DeWitt, Kalamazoo and Howard City Tri County. The chance to earn scholarship money was open to all 190 seniors who competed, and 75 chose to write an essay about "talking to their younger self and determining how competitive cheer has helped the athlete," said Stacy Smith, the president of the Michigan Cheer Judges Association. Smith said much of the event's dual goal is to promote competitive cheer while helping senior athletes wherever there is a financial need.

Several officials contribute to making the meet an unforgettable experience. The meet started with just five teams and a few hundred dollars in scholarships in 2001, but has blossomed into one of the largest single-day high school sports fundraisers in the state. The meet, which has been held at Byron Center three times as well as schools such as Caledonia and East Kentwood, reached a peak of raising $25,000 a year ago.

What makes the day particularly special, Smith said, is that between 50 and 70 members of the LMCCOA annually show up to donate their time without knowing how their abilities will be put to use. In addition to judging the meet, members handle virtually every other aspect of the competition, from taking tickets, working the concession stand, filling water bottles, scoring, running a 50/50 raffle and whatever else organizers can find for them to do.

"Cheer athletes aren't always recognized a lot for their work, but it's a sport where (Michigan) colleges have gained notoriety at the national level and now offer scholarships," Smith said. "It's become a big deal in the state. Division I and II schools and NAIA schools all offer scholarships now. This can help."

Seniors who choose to participate write their essay prior to the meet, and then a committee of judges pore over the writings during the meet. Winners are announced following the competition. Twenty-one seniors were awarded scholarship money.

Smith said few parents probably grasp how much detail goes into running a long, grueling Saturday event.

"I'm not sure if people realize all the hands that have to make this happen," she said. "We've been doing it for 20 years, and for us it's like riding a bike. You never forget. It's just a wonderful day.

"I'm not surprised people want to be part of it and step up wherever they're needed."

Plaisted said judges sign up for jobs when they arrive at the meet. A judge can be officiating an event one minute and selling hot dogs moments later. The 'work wherever needed' attitude of judges, she said, is what makes the event a popular destination for participating schools.

"As officials, we emphasize young women participating," she said. "That old concept of the dumb blonde cheerleader doesn't exist anymore. This is an accomplished group of girls who we support. If you talk to any of (the judges), this meet is one of the most fun things we're going to do all season.

The LMCCOA also awarded scholarships to seniors from Division 2 and 3 schools."It's become so popular. We gave away like $50 the first year, and since then we've grown from one long day to two sessions so we could increase the number of teams. Everyone goes home with a smile on their face, which for officials doesn't always happen."

Paw Paw cheer coach Stefanie Miller, whose team won the Division 3 portion of the meet, said coaches look forward to taking their teams to the meet.

"Absolutely because it's all about community," she said. "We talk to the girls about service and giving back. It's definitely a teachable moment, not only for the kids but for the adults, too, knowing what goes to the seniors."

"What I like best is that it promotes the athletes and all the work they put in. It's about giving back to them," added Brighton coach Christina Wilson, whose team won the Division 1 competition. "So many teams want to attend, and the coaches want the players to have a chance at a scholarship.

"I'm just in awe of seeing so many people there who are willing to give their energy for the kids."

One of Miller's favorite parts of the meet is watching fathers do a cheer "jump off" of their own tongue-in-cheek cheering skills while waiting for the final scores. She also loves volunteers making nearly 200 bows for participants to wear during the meet.

"Fathers do these cheerleader-type (routines) while there is a lull and it's just great," she said. "It's fun stuff like that that makes the day so special. It's all about giving back."

PHOTOS (Top) MHSAA official Jane Plaisted takes a photo with this year’s LMCCOA Division 1 scholarship winners. (Middle) Several officials contribute to making the meet an unforgettable experience. (Below) The LMCCOA also awarded scholarships to seniors from Division 2 and 3 schools. (Photos courtesy of Stacy Smith.)