GRAND RAPIDS – Moments before its final round Friday, Southgate Anderson launched into an “I believe that we will win” chant with its crew of fans at the Grand Rapids Delta Plex.
A year ago, the Titans came to the MHSAA Division 1 Final with similar confidence – and finished seventh of eight teams at the championship meet.
But this time, with lessons learned, Southgate Anderson backed it up. The Titans scored the meet’s top Round 2 and 3 scores and outlasted surging Hudsonville to win their first MHSAA cheer championship.
“Last year … it was a crushing blow. We couldn’t believe that happened, and we weren’t going to let it happen again,” Titans senior Bri Walsh said. “We worked too hard to let it go. We needed to push through.
“It was a mindset. I’ve never been on a team this dedicated.”
Southgate Anderson scored 816.6032 points Friday, besting its previous top score this season by less than a tenth of a point. Hudsonville, which like Anderson had never finished even among the top two at the Finals, came in second with 813.2976. Rochester Stoney Creek was third with a score of 811.3456.
The Titans’ pre-Round 3 chant carried additional significance because of strong performances the last two weeks. As the regular season came to a close, Southgate Anderson considered itself a strong Round 2 team. For a while before that, the Titans specialized in Round 1.
But just before Districts, Southgate Anderson made some switches in its final routine that paid off big. Also, coach Colette Norscia said the difference between this and past teams was the increased time it spent conditioning. And Walsh agreed that was a difference-maker in the Titans’ being able to land more difficult skills this winter.
Although 16 of Southgate Anderson’s 28 cheerleaders were on the team last year, most of Friday’s competitors watched from the sideline in 2011.
“They were hungry for it last year,” Norscia said. They had an opportunity to see on the sideline what needed to be done, and they took that into the gym this year.”
She admitted that unlike usual, she didn’t look at the scoreboard heading into her team’s Round 3, and had no idea where her team stood. Hudsonville performed its Round 3 later in the final rotation, and Eagles coach Amanda Cooper did look at the scores and knew her team needed to be just about perfect to move into first place.
Hudsonville was nearly flawless and finished nine tenths behind the Titans in that round with a score of 324.600. But the Eagles’ final score was its best this season by nearly three points, and the runner-up finish bested their best previous Finals placing of third in 2010. Hudsonville finished eighth last season.
“We had our best three rounds on the same day here at states, and I can’t ask for anything more,” Cooper said. “We had an amazing week of practice and an amazing warm-up, so I was just excited for them to go out there and nail (Round 3). That’s what we said – just have a clean, fun, solid round.
“Runner-up is awesome. We couldn’t be any happier.”
Click for full results from the Division 1 Final, and check back Saturday night for results from Divisions 2, 3 and 4.
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
January: Taylor Trillium Academy girls bowling - Report
December: Byron Center hockey - Report
November: Martin football - Report
October: Gladwin volleyball - Report
September: Negaunee girls tennis - Report