By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Breckenridge possessed the smallest competitive cheer team in terms of numbers among the eight in Saturday’s MHSAA Division 4 Final.
Being fewer in number, however, didn't prevent the Huskies from adding another championship to their already remarkable resume.
Despite a roster of only nine, Breckenridge won its third straight Division 4 Final on Saturday at Grand Rapids DeltaPlex.
It was the second time the Huskies had won at least three titles in a row. They captured six Class C/D titles over a span of seven years from 2000-2006.
Breckenridge tallied a three-round score of 768.66 to edge runner-up Hudson (765.10.)
“We were a smaller team this year, and we worked on that and knew how the score sheet worked,” Breckenridge co-coach Deb Gaines said. “Just doing everything we could to get all the points we could as a small team. We worked harder and turned over every rock to be stronger while also working on our vocals.”
There were benefits and difficulties involved with having a decreased number of girls, according to co-coach Jenna Graham.
“It’s easier for us to work with less girls, but on the mat you can’t hide anybody,” she said. “From player one to nine they all had to be stellar.”
The members of the team didn’t mind the low total. It helped create a tight unit that was determined to continue the program’s successful tradition.
“Having less girls does help because it’s less people you have to focus on and there are less personalities,” senior Madison Smith said. “Our team is so close, and I can say that these eight girls are my best friends.”
“I think we worked together better being smaller,” added senior Harley Conklin. “There were less arguments and we flowed really well together. Overall, we just clicked well.”
The Huskies clicked well early en route to the victory. They snared the early advantage with a score of 231.90 in Round 1.
“That was our goal,” Gaines said. “We knew we couldn’t be behind after Round 1. We were pleased with that, and we’re super happy. They did exactly what we’ve been practicing to do. To come out and deliver three great rounds, and that’s what they did.”
Smith said the Round 1 effort was a motivating factor.
“We knew we gave everything we had in that round so we knew we could do it for two more rounds,” she said. “This is the best feeling, and I hope every high school athlete gets to feel this.”
The program's 10th MHSAA Finals championship was particularly special for Gaines and Graham, who are mother and daughter.
Graham cheered for her mom in the early 2000s and was a part of three titles.
“It works awesome with us coaching together,” Graham said. “It’s special to share this together.”
Added Gaines: “We’re on the same page. We have the same goals and the same outlook. This keeps us going.”
Hudson returned to the top two for the first time in seven years.
The Tigers placed runners-up in 2010, the last in a string of three straight second-places finishes from 2008-2010.
“It feels great to be second,” said 20th-year Hudson coach Kelly Bailey. “You watch a lot of teams be disappointed with runner-up, but if you’re getting a medal you are getting a medal and I have all the respect in the world for Breckenridge. They are a great program and to be that close to them … you can’t ask for anything more."
The Tigers secured their lofty finish by posting the highest Round 3 score (315.80) of the day.
“They did exactly what we asked them to do,” Bailey said. “Just have fun and don’t give up until the end. We never looked at scores. We just went out there and did our best.”
Adrian Madison (753.54) took third, while last year’s runner-up, Michigan Center (749.44), placed fourth.
PHOTOS: (Top) Breckenridge performs en route to repeating as Division 4 champion Saturday. (Middle) Hudson earned its highest Finals finish since 2010, taking second.
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