D4 Preview: Huskies Hunt for 3-Peat

March 3, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

It’s tough to overstate how dominant Breckenridge’s cheer program has been since returning to the mat at the start of the 2014-15 season.

But neither of those first two Division 4 championship seasons was accompanied by as much success as this winter’s Huskies have enjoyed.

Below are glances at all eight Division 4 teams competing beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday. All four Finals will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a subscription basis.

Rank: No. 4.
League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Emily Gafford, eighth season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 758.16 at District.
Team composition: 17 total (four seniors, three juniors, six sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: Madison is making its first trip to the Finals since 2011 after also winning its first District title since that season. The Trojans are surging with their top two scores coming in the District and Regional, even as that Regional score placed the team fourth, its only finish below third and one of only two lower than second this winter. Madison’s best Round 3 of 314.2 leads Division 3. Seniors Bre Anna Collins and Emily Hindes earned all-region honorable mentions last season.

Rank: No. 1.
League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Co-coaches: Deb Gaines, 32nd season; Jenna Graham, ninth season.
Championship history: Nine MHSAA titles (most recent 2016), one runner-up finish.
Top score: 774.32.
Team composition: Nine total (three seniors, two juniors, four sophomores). 
Outlook: It’s been an incredible run for Breckenridge, which has won the last two Division 4 titles and finished first in all of its events this season despite having half as many athletes as a year ago. The Huskies’ high score also is higher than at this time last year and would rank among the top five in Divisions 2 or 3; their average overall score of 749.4 is 26 points higher than second-place Madison’s. Senior Harley Conklin, junior Kasey Conn and sophomore Olivia Mayle made the all-state first team in 2016, and senior Madison Smith made the second team.

Rank: No. 5.
League finish: First in Jack Pine Conference.
Coach: Taylor Bryant, fifth season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 751.86.
Team composition: 13 total (seven juniors, five sophomores, one freshman). 
Outlook: Farwell doesn’t have a senior this season, but its top overall score is nearly 50 points higher than at this time a year ago and it’s moved up from second to first in the Jack Pine Conference. The Eagles will next try to improve on their eighth place at last season’s Finals; they’ve finished lower than second only once this season. Junior Morgan Nestor earned an all-state honorable mention last season.

Rank: No. 3.
League finish: Second in Jack Pine Conference.
Coach: Celeste Kubiak, 12th season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 752.52.
Team composition: 18 total (nine seniors, seven juniors, two sophomores). 
Outlook: Houghton Lake finished fifth last season for the second straight but enters Saturday with a much more experienced lineup that hasn’t finished lower than second this season and has a high overall score 12 points better than when it entered the Finals a year ago. After finishing second to Farwell in the league, the Bobcats finished first ahead of their rival at both the District and Regional. Junior Jessica Whelpley earned all-state honorable mention in 2016.

Rank: No. 2.
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association.
Coach: Kelly Bailey, 20th season.
Championship history: Four runner-up finishes (most recent 2010). 
Top score: 751.30 at Regional.
Team composition: 19 total (nine seniors, four juniors, four sophomores, two freshmen). 
Outlook: After four finishes of fourth or higher over the previous four seasons, Hudson fell back to sixth in 2016 but also returns with a high overall score this season nearly 20 points better than at this time a year ago. Hudson’s average overall score of 720.8 ranks third in Division 4, and it won its first league title since 2011. Senior Bobbi Selix made the all-state second team last season, and junior Shiann Martinus earned an honorable mention.

Rank: No. 6.
League finish: First in Cascades Conference.
Coach: Jessica Trefry, 16th season.
Championship history: Five Division 4 titles (most recent 2014), one runner-up finish.
Top score: 758.68 at the Regional. 
Team composition: 20 total (four seniors, seven juniors, six sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: Michigan Center improved from third in 2015 to second last winter, and that Regional score is the second-highest overall score in the division this season; the Cardinals’ round high scores all rank among the top four as well. They’ve cleared 740 points in three of their last four competitions. Sophomore Ayana Santana made the all-state first team last season, while senior Kamryn Barrett made the second team and senior Bethany Thrall and sophomore Carlee Lally earned honorable mentions.

Rank: No. 7.
League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Staci Myers, 10th season.
Championship history: Eight MHSAA titles (most recent 2010), 10 runner-up finishes.
Top score: 744.92.
Team composition: 12 total (three seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, three freshmen). 
Outlook: The Pirates remain one of the most accomplished cheer programs in MHSAA history and bounced back this winter after missing the Finals by two places at their Regional in 2016. Their average total score of 718.5 ranks fourth in the division, and P-W has broken 720 points in five straight events. Senior Nicole Schafer made the all-region second team in 2016, and senior Bailey Fandel earned an honorable mention.

Rank: Unranked.
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference. 
Coach: Penny Grinage-Guy, 19th season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 733.44 at Regional.
Team composition: 18 total (four seniors, five juniors, three sophomores, six freshmen). 
Outlook: Shelby jumped a spot from eighth in 2015 to seventh last season and has improved significantly over their last five competitions, breaking 679 four times after topping out at 661 prior. Shelby shines in Round 3, where its top score this season (304.2) ranks seventh in the division. Senior Calee Monroe made the all-region second team last winter, and junior Makenzie Allen earned honorable mention.

PHOTO: Farwell is one of six teams returning from last season’s Division 4 Finals.

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.)