By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
GRAND RAPIDS – Jasmine Martinez doesn’t remember much of what she and her teammates performed during their three rounds on the DeltaPlex mat Friday.
But the Grandville senior has a pretty good idea what she’ll see when she re-watches this season’s MHSAA Division 1 Competitive Cheer Final.
“I think our hearts on the line,” Martinez said. “We just knew we had to do it for each other, for the legacy we had and for the coaches who pushed us harder than we ever thought we could push ourselves.”
Grandville pushed all the way to its first MHSAA title since 2011 and sixth championship in school history.
The Bulldogs first had to push past an early deficit to 12-time champion Rochester, but posted the Final’s high scores for Rounds 2 and 3 to edge the Falcons 786.80-785.34 when the overall scores were tallied.
The close win went well with a close loss to Southgate Anderson at last season’s Final, where Grandville finished runner-up by a mere 2.42 points.
“We have 12 seniors on the team. All of us were at State last year, and we knew what it was like to come that close and have it taken away from us,” Martinez said. “That fueled us all season. From Feb. 28 last year, when we lost, we said we will be state champs March 6, 2015.”
The top four teams Friday were separated by fewer than three points. Rochester Hills Stoney Creek was third at 784.28, and Lake Orion finished fourth at 783.84.
To finish atop such a close, competitive field took a little something extra special. And Grandville coach Julie Smith-Boyd said this team was unlike any other during her 34 years running the program.
The Bulldogs were healthy throughout the winter, allowing them to be strong early and begin fine-tuning their routines in January to eliminate the errors that could’ve shaved valuable tenths of points off their scores.
But Friday took more than skills.
“We had an intangible thing, fire, heart, I don’t know,” Smith-Boyd said. “It was inside them. They were just so determined. I’ve never had a team quite like this before.
“We’ve won six times, and every one is special. But to see them have that almost out-of-body experience, that sounds weird, but I just never really felt that like today.”
Unlike last season, when Grandville was tied for first after Round 1, the Bulldogs trailed Rochester by 1.3 points at that point Friday.
Rochester entered the Final having posted the highest scores in Division 1 this season in all three rounds. But Grandville posted a 230.40 to lead Round 2 on Friday while Rochester came in at 228.84, and the Bulldogs then tied Rochester’s division-best Round 3 score with a 321.00 to finish the meet. The Falcons scored 319.80 in Round 3 to secure second place.
“We really struggled in Round 2, which was a shock to us. That round usually is not a problem, but it was nerves I guess,” Rochester coach Susan Wood said. “We know we were close, but we know that we should not have won. We didn’t have the three rounds that we had (winning) at Regionals and Districts.”
Few know what it takes to be in the championship mix as much as Wood, who also finished her 34th season and has led Rochester to 12 MHSAA titles. The Falcons didn’t make the Finals a year ago, making Friday’s runner-up finish that much more satisfying.
Grandville also experienced a stretch of tough times in 2013 on the way to finishing runner-up last season, including the deaths of two athletes’ mothers that fall after fights with cancer and the deaths of two classmates a year ago this week.
“It’s just special to see them get through it and grow from it,” Smith-Boyd said. “It was amazing.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Grandville takes the mat during Friday’s Division 1 Final at the Grand Rapids DeltaPlex. (Middle) Rochester performs its routine during Round 3.
MOUNT PLEASANT – Allen Park competitive cheer coach Julie Goodwin calls Round 3 her team’s “money round.”
And did the Jaguars ever make it pay off Saturday at Central Michigan University’s McGuirk Arena.
Allen Park and Gibraltar Carlson had combined to win every MHSAA Division 2 Final championship over the last 16 seasons – and entered Round 3 this time separated by a mere 54 hundredths of a point.
That was just shy of the margin Carlson won by, over Allen Park, at last year’s championship meet. But the margin of victory this time would not be so close.
The Jaguars cashed in big with a seemingly flawless routine, their 322.40 the highest Round 3 score at the Finals in any division since 2012, and pulled away from the field to finish with 793.34 points and their fourth championship over the last five seasons.
“It felt so incredible. That was the round that we were waiting to perform all season,” Allen Park junior Abigail Obrycki said. “It felt perfect. It felt like everybody gave exactly what they were supposed to do, and it was just perfect.
“It’s what we love to do. We love stunting. We love perfecting it and getting everything exactly how it’s supposed to be.”
Allen Park led by only two tenths of a point after Round 1, with Carlson just behind, and was able to extend that lead only another 34 hundredths of a point in Round 2.
Carlson – which finished first in the Downriver League ahead of Allen Park before Allen Park won their Regional – also had to absorb a significant penalty that ended up sending the Marauders to fourth in the final standings.
“We had an amazing week of practice, we had an amazing season. It’s been a journey, it wasn’t an instant climb, and they did everything they needed,” said Allen Park coach Julie Goodwin, who was finishing her 20th season and 20th time bringing the team to the Finals. “They needed three clean rounds today, and they did it.”
Carleton Airport finished runner-up, its highest at a Finals since finishing Class B runner-up in 2003.
These last three weeks have seen the Jets certainly land among the state’s elite in just their second season under coach Emily Dusik. Airport won their District two weeks ago, just ahead of Carlson, and then finished behind Allen Park and Carlson at their Regional but with a season-high score that was six points higher than their previous best this season. The Jets also enjoyed their major surge despite moving into Division 2 after competing in Division 3 last season.
“I think (today) gave the girls a drive that they’ve never really experienced before. Being here today, it opened their eyes to their potential and really allowed them to believe in what they’re doing,” Dusik said. “We tell them all year just do your best, and we had a little bit of a tough time today and they still came out and did a great job. I’m just so proud of everything they’ve done.
“It’s kinda unbelievable right now. It’s just incredible. But it’s all the girls. I try to fill their buckets as much as possible and try to give them as much positivity to believe in themselves, and it’s really showing. They’re starting to believe that they’re capable of great things.”
Airport finished with a score of 779.92, with Dearborn Divine Child right behind at 779.84. Carlson was in that mix as well at 778.10, followed by Cedar Springs, Middleville Thornapple Kellogg, Plainwell and Muskegon Reeths-Puffer.
PHOTOS (Top) Allen Park competes during Saturday's Division 2 Finals at McGuirk Arena. (Middle) The Jaguars celebrate their fourth championship in five seasons. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)