Fast Start Leads to Familiar Allen Park Finals Finish

By Tom Kendra
Special for

March 27, 2021

EAST LANSING – Allen Park proved Saturday the importance of a fast start in competitive cheerleading.

The Jaguars built a big lead, then held on despite not having their best stuff in Round 3 to capture their second consecutive Division 2 championship at the Breslin Center at Michigan State University.

“We didn’t have our best Round 3, but we definitely had our best Rounds 1 and 2,” said Allen Park senior Kylee Dietz, a returning all-stater from last year. “That just proves it takes three rounds to win a state championship.”

Allen Park posted the best scores in the eight-team field in the first two rounds and did enough in the final round to win with a 782.34 score.

DeWitt (778.90) moved up one after a third-place finish last year to place second. Muskegon Mona Shores (776.48) moved up to third with the best Round 3 score in the field.

Allen Park has now won three of the last five Division 2 titles, while placing second the other two years.

Julie Goodwin, in her 16th year as the Jaguars’ coach, said the key to this year’s victory occurred long before Saturday’s first two rounds – and far away from the bright lights of the Breslin Center.

“For two months we had practice on the computer four days a week and we had 100 percent attendance,” said Goodwin, who is assisted by Meghan Terry, Tina Johnson and Jessica Tremonti. “These girls worked hard in their basements.”

It looked for most of Saturday morning that Allen Park was going to run away from the rest of the field, in similar fashion as Rochester Adams did in the Division 1 Final on Friday.

But the Jaguars had an uncharacteristic drop on a stunt and several bobbles in Round 3, opening the door, albeit slightly, for its competitors. Goodwin said her team showed its grit by finishing the round strong.

“Endurance and perseverance were the key to today’s win,” Goodwin said. “I have been saying all year that we are grateful, thankful and blessed –  and I truly mean that.”

Leading the Jaguars through this challenging season were six seniors, including returning all-staters Skyler Longton and Dietz. Other seniors were Cailey Tuttle, Haylee Jent and returning all-state honorable mention choices Rayden Guthrie and Monica Karagozian.

Those six seniors pointed to the depth of the program, with 27 girls on the roster, as the key to this year’s championship. That depth allowed the Jaguars to overcome teammates that were sidelined by COVID testing and injuries.

2021 D2 Competitive Cheer Runner-Up DeWitt

“Everyone here is always prepared to step in and get the job done,” said Guthrie.

Allen Park will likely be in the hunt for a “three-peat” next winter, with a strong group of 10 juniors (including all-staters Adrianna Carone and Cassidy Kuhn) and nine sophomores returning.

DeWitt, which has never won a cheer Finals championship, finished runner-up for the third time, after also taking second in 2007 and 2015.

Candace Heskitt, in her 13th year as DeWitt’s coach, featured a veteran team with nine juniors and eight seniors – notably returning first-team all-staters Gabrielle Cooney and Aubrey McKinley.

“We had a feeling we were going to have a breakthrough, and it finally came today,” McKinley said. “It’s sad that it’s over, but it’s great to leave with this big trophy.”

Click for full team standings.

PHOTOS: (Top) Allen Park celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday at Breslin Center. (Middle) DeWitt competes on the way to its third runner-up Finals finish. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Team of the Month: Croswell-Lexington Competitive Cheer

By Geoff Kimmerly 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