D4 Preview: Hopefuls Seek to Join Elite

March 1, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Hudson joined the list of elite small-school competitive cheer programs last winter when it won its first Division 4 Finals championship.

Could another rising team do the same Saturday?

Four of this season’s eight Division 4 contenders – including 2018 runner-up Sanford Meridian – have never won. The other four contenders, however, have combined for 24 MHSAA titles.

Below are glances at all eight teams competing Saturday. Division 4 begins at 2 p.m. and will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a subscription basis. Click here for the Finals draws and other important information.

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Emily Gafford, 11th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.

Top score: 752.72.
Team composition: 14 total (seven seniors, four juniors, one sophomore, two freshmen)
Outlook: Madison has finished third two straight seasons, last year three tenths of a point out of second place. The Trojans have broken 740 six times this season and 750 twice, and their average total score of 728.9 ranks fourth in the division. Senior Molly Hayes and juniors Abbey Dusseau-Garno and Hannah Lobkovich made the all-state first team last season, and junior Alyssa Sayers made the second team.

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Nicki Smith, first season
Championship history: Ten MHSAA titles (most recent 2017), one runner-up finish.
Top score: 724.34 at the Regional.
Team composition: 14 total (four seniors, two juniors, one sophomore, seven freshmen)
Outlook: Breckenridge grad Smith brought the program back after there was no team a year ago, and the Huskies quickly jumped back into the mix placing fourth or higher at all of their competitions. A young team has scored substantially higher as the season has progressed, with the Regional score 55 points higher than its lowest at the beginning of this season. Seniors Olivia Mayle and Shianne Jerry made the all-state first team and seniors Amiah Cole and Carmen Collins made the second in 2017 when as sophomores they helped a nine-member Breckenridge team win its third straight Division 4 title.

League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver
Coach: Sue Smith, sixth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 723.86 at the Regional.
Team composition: 17 total (one senior, two juniors, seven sophomores, seven freshmen)
Outlook: The Mustangs followed their second straight league title by advancing to the Finals for the first time. And talk about improvement: NorthPointe’s Regional score was more than 100 points better than what it posted in its season-opening event this winter. Sophomores Kristi Smith and Malia Baugh earned all-Regional recognition in 2018.

League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Kelly Bailey, 22nd season
Championship history: Division 4 champion 2018, five runner-up finishes. 

Top score: 767.18 at the Regional.
Team composition: 21 total (two seniors, six juniors, eight sophomores, five freshmen)
Outlook: After finishing runner-up in 2017, Hudson broke through for its first title last year and should be in the mix again with that Regional score the second-highest in Division 4 this winter. Hudson won 11 of its 13 competitions, and its best scores in each round all rank among the division’s top four. A number of standouts lead the way again: senior Alexis LaFollette and juniors Anna Loar, Lyndsey Tanner and Anna Valdez all made the all-state first team last season, while sophomore Kallahan Marry made the second and junior Savannah Proudfoot and sophomores Kaley Bloomer and Ahna Marry earned honorable mentions.

League finish: First in Cascades Conference
Coach: Jessica Trefry, 18th season
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), one runner-up finish.
Top score: 759.7.
Team composition: 20 total (three seniors, five juniors, eight sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: After a rare miss of the Finals last season – while competing in Division 3 – Michigan Center is back having won its 14th straight league title. All three top round scores and its average total score of 728.9 rank among the top five in the division, with the best Round 3 (315.6) coming in second. Junior Lauryll Samon, senior Carlee Lally and sophomore Jordyn Richardson all earned Division 3 all-Regional recognition last season.

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Nicole Lasak, sixth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 741.84 at the District.
Team composition: 10 total (three seniors, three juniors, two sophomores, two freshmen)
Outlook: Munising is back at the Finals for the first time since 2014, having won seven competitions and finished second in its other two this winter. All of its top round scores rank among the top 10 in Division 4, and its average total score of 700 comes in seventh. Juniors Taylin Behning and Kali Donnelly earned all-Regional honors last season.

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Staci Myers, 12th season
Championship history: Eight MHSAA titles (most recent 2010), 10 runner-up finishes.

Top score: 764.16.
Team composition: 19 total (five seniors, four juniors, five sophomores, five freshmen)
Outlook: The Pirates are riding District and Regional wins into this weekend and could make a big jump from finishing eighth a year ago. All of P-W’s best round scores rank among the top three in Division 4 – its best Round 2 (224.3) is second on that list – and the Pirates’ average total score of 741.1 ranks second. Senior Kelsey Russell made the all-state first team last season, while senior Cierra Van Ellis made the second and junior Isabelle Droste earned honorable mention.

League finish: First in Jack Pine Conference
Coach: Val MacKenzie, 30th season
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2018.
Top score: 775.98 at the District.
Team composition: 16 total (six seniors, five juniors, three sophomores, two freshmen).
Outlook: Coming off their highest Finals finish ever, Meridian is among favorites Saturday. The Mustangs have the highest average total score in Division 4 at 744.6 and the highest scores this season in all three rounds. They did finish second to Hudson at the Regional, 13 points back, but won nine of their 11 events this winter total. All of the team’s all-state honorees from 2018 are back – seniors Katie Blanchard and McKenna Burns and juniors Lexy North and Dalaynie O’Hare made the first team, seniors Tana Spangler and Becky O’Dell and sophomore Jade McRoberts made the second, and seniors Aubrey Erskine and Elizabeth Melchi earned honorable mentions.

PHOTO: Reigning Division 4 champion Hudson competes at the Alma College Cheer Fest. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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