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.
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