Falcons Prove 'Sharpest' of Rochester Powers in Taking Back D1 Title

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

March 2, 2023

MOUNT PLEASANT – The joyful outpouring and high-pitched shrieks that rocked McGuirk Arena in Mount Pleasant at 8:20 p.m. Thursday were six years in the making.

That was the exact moment when the final scores were read and Rochester realized it had edged its archrival from down the road, three-time reigning champion Rochester Adams, by less than a single point to win its first MHSAA Division 1 competitive cheer championship since 2017.

There were screams, leaps, smiles and hugs – the kind of pure emotion that is rare, but happens in high-level sporting competition.

“It doesn’t feel real,” Rochester senior Ava Grabke said amongst the chaos. “All the hard work we’ve put in this season, really all of these years, finally did pay off.”

Rochester won with a three-round total of 790.62, with Adams less than a point behind at 789.72.

The third high school in the Rochester Community Schools district, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek (787.56), placed third, followed by Brighton (317.10) and Grandville (316.80).

The back story is that Rochester has the most cheer titles in state history (now 15), but in recent years, rival Adams has had the upper hand – winning the past three Division 1 championships and edging the Falcons at this season’s District and Regional, making the Highlanders favorites to “four-peat” at the Final.

Instead, it was Rochester, under the direction of first-year coach Samantha Koehler, which got off to a great start in Round 1 and held off a fierce challenge from Adams.

“We had one of our best Round 1 performances of the season today and, obviously, there’s no better time for that than the state finals,” said Koehler, who was a highly-successful head coach at Plymouth before taking over the Rochester program last year from legendary coach Susan Wood.

“It just goes to show that every round matters – every point, every decimal.”

Rochester had a 1.4-point lead after the first round, but Adams trimmed that to 0.9 points by getting the best score in Round 2 – setting the stage for a pressure-packed Round 3.

Rochester Adams takes the mat on the way to a runner-up finish.Stoney Creek and Hartland were also within striking distance and went early in Round 3, but were unable to make a big move.

Rochester vs. Adams took place in the sixth and seventh spots, respectively, in the Round 3 rotation. Both teams were outstanding under pressure and, fittingly, ended up with identical scores of 321.10 in the final round – giving Rochester the overall win by that nine tenths of a point.

“I think going first in that opening round hurt us a little bit,” said ninth-year Adams coach Brooke Miller. “We started a little lower than we expected and even though we won Round 2 and tied them in Round 3, we couldn’t overcome it.”

It was the fourth Finals runner-up finish to go with the three championships for the Highlanders, who had 12 seniors out of 28 athletes on the roster.

Among those seniors, Katie Burgin, Alex Ris and Ashley Rosati were all returning all-state second-team selections, and Emma Maynard and Peyton Regalado were honorable mention choices in 2022.

“Knowing we lost by less than a point is hard to take,” said Adams senior Ava Bolin. “But at the same time, there’s no better feeling than knowing when you get off the mat for the last time that there’s nothing else you could have done. That’s how we felt today.”

Koehler said the rivalry between the three Rochester schools and Oakland Activities Association Red rivals is incredibly intense, but for the most part, very positive. She has an ongoing group chat with Miller and Stoney Creek coach Tricia Williams where they wish each other the best.

“I really don’t have an explanation about how our three Rochester schools are 1, 2, 3 in the state, other than iron sharpens iron,” said Koehler. “We see them pretty much every weekend during the season, and it’s always super close. We know we have to keep working and improving to keep up with them.”

The victory was particularly sweet for the Falcons’ nine seniors, especially after failing to qualify for the Finals in 2021 and then placing fifth last year.

Rochester’s nine seniors were Grabke, Amelia Craft, Emily Isabell, Juliet Jones, Elizabeth Dyki, Maeve Losh, Martina Dedvukaj, Shreya Pillai and Wanja Kamau – all of whom enjoyed one final group rendition of the Rochester program’s theme song, “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree, this time on the McGuirk championship mat.

“It felt great,” Dedvukaj said with a smile. “It was like all the hard work and everything that happened over the past four years led us to this moment.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Rochester competes during Thursday’s Division 1 Final at McGuirk Arena. (Middle) Rochester Adams takes the mat on the way to a runner-up finish.

Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

March 10, 2023

SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.

Greater DetroitThat question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”

“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.

It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.

Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.

It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.

“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”

Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.

The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.

“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”

Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.

But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.

Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.

Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.

“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”

Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.

With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.

“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.

Both also learn from each other’s experiences.

“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”

Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”

This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.

With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.

That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.

But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.

With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at keithdunlap78@gmail.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)