Special for Second Half
GRANDVILLE – Grandville has had one of the elite competitive cheer programs in the state since the sport became MHSAA-sponsored in 1994.
Six championships in Division 1/Class A and eight runner-up finishes over the past 21 years provide undeniable proof of the program’s success under longtime coach Julie Smith-Boyd.
Grandville enters this season as the defending Division 1 champion after notching a narrow victory over another perennial power, Rochester, at last season’s MHSAA Final. It was the Bulldogs’ first title since 2011.
Smith-Boyd, in her 35th year at the helm, said a key to last year’s run was a commitment to conditioning and weight training.
“Last year was the first year that we lifted throughout the season,” Smith-Boyd said. “We have lifted in the past, but once the season started we stopped. It was amazing to me how much stronger they were at the end, and now that we’ve been doing it for over a full year they are so strong.”
The hiring of strength and conditioning coach Tully Chapman has made a world of difference to not only the competitive cheer squad, but other sports at Grandville.
“Everything is so much better and stronger, even with their tumbling,” Smith-Boyd said. “They are showing more athleticism, and it has benefited us so much. The lifting has made them more mentally tough, to get through some things that they didn’t think they could do. We are doing some hard things this year and really mixing it up.”
The added element to the program, combined with the return of several key performers, has the Bulldogs primed to duplicate last year’s accomplishment.
Grandville has 13 back, including Ingrid Vredevoogd, Kelsey Russell, Mackenzie Brower, Carly Landstra, Rachel Anglim, Skyler Stauffer, McKenzie Wezeman, Daelyn Weir, Kaley Schuitema, Olivia Calvin, Jaycie Schultz, Claire Baker and Paige Gkekas.
“We’re not as experienced as last year’s team was, but they looked amazing in Rounds 1 and 2 at the first meet at Comstock Park,” Smith-Boyd said. “I looked at the scores and they were almost identical to the same time last year. We do have the target on our back, but I just want them to do their best.”
The Bulldogs are vowing not to be satisfied with last year’s memorable feat.
“We’re just really powerful, and I feel like we have this drive to do it again,” Weir, a junior, said. “And since we’re state champs, we feel like we have to work even harder at it to be champs again.”
Vredevoogd, one of eight seniors, echoed those sentiments. She said the team understands the challenges awaiting it in defending the title.
“We talked in practice how for teams that didn’t win last year it’s almost easier to reach for it because there is something to strive for,” she said. “It’s almost harder to stay at the top, so our focus is to work hard to stay there instead of taking steps back. We have girls back who know what the state finals felt like, and the girls from the JV have jumped right in. We’ve hit the ground running.”
Within the program, expectations never change. Smith-Boyd doesn’t allow it.
“I don’t really lower the bar; I just don’t,” she said. “And the girls coming up know that. The bar keeps going up and up the more talented and the more skilled they become. They just rise to the occasion, and we keep getting girls to come out for it. They work so hard, and I really like this group.”
The tradition of the program motivates each team member. They don’t want to disappoint previous teams and are focused to live up to the high standards.
“A lot of the alumni will come back, especially during state week, and they will talk to us about their experiences,” Vredevoogd said. “It just motivates us to carry on what they’ve built up, and especially Julie. There is a lot to be proud of and a lot to be excited to be a part of.”
Said Weir: “I feel like we always have the pressure, only because we’ve always had so many teams in the past that have been really good so we all feel like we have to be like that.”
A close bond also has formed among this year’s group.
“We all love each other and love to be around each other,” Weir said. “We’re a family, and being at practice is fun.”
While the opportunity to contend for another MHSAA title would be ideal, Smith-Boyd simply hopes for the best from her team.
“That would be super cool, but if we don’t get it I want them to have a great year,” Smith-Boyd said. “For it to be exciting, memorable and fun.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grandville competes during Round 3 of last season's MHSAA Division 1 Final at the Grand Rapids DeltaPlex. (Middle) Coach Julie Smith-Boyd prepares to guide her athletes during competition.
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