By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Breckenridge’s Dakota Colthorp was part of a group of wide-eyed and enthusiastic fifth graders who wanted to be involved in competitive cheer.
At the time, the high school didn’t have a team due to low numbers.
Seven years later, Colthorp and her elementary school classmates have become instrumental in helping restore the program to the dominant level it had been accustomed to in the 2000s.
Breckenridge captured its second straight MHSAA Division 4 Final on Saturday at The DeltaPlex.
The Huskies notched high scores in each round to tally a 767.68 and best runner-up Michigan Center (754.12).
“It’s incredibly special for us,” Colthorp said. “We didn’t have a team for awhile, and our group of seniors are the ones who brought it back. We started in fifth grade and have not left since. The seven of us went through middle school with this program and we helped rebuild it to where it is today. It’s incredible to say that we are back-to-back state champions.”
The senior class also included Kaitlyn Corson, Paige Guthrie, Alicia Gutierrez, Katie Mortensen, Justine Brabaw and Lindsey Reichard.
"It's very special because we've wanted this for a long time," Guthrie said. "We've had family members who have won before, and we wanted to do the same. My cousins cheered in 2007."
The seniors were motivated to end their high school careers with another top finish.
“For the seven of us, it’s the last time being able to do that,” Colthorp said. “So we made sure to give it our all and leave it all out on the mat. It might not have been perfect in the warm-up room, but we came together and gave it our best on the mat.
“We put in a lot of hard work in and it was very rewarding to be here and be able to bring home the trophy.”
The Huskies repeated for the first time since 2007, the last time they won an MHSAA Division 4 championship.
They won six Class C/D titles during a span of seven seasons from 2000-2006.
Breckenridge coach Deb Gaines recruited the seniors from that fifth-grade class.
“They were very committed and dedicated,” Gaines said. “They were key to our program coming back, and others followed. I think some of them had perfect attendance through the years. There were very few absences.”
Huskies co-coach Jenna Graham said the seniors have always been there to lend support.
“We’ve relied on them for motivation on and off the mat,” she said. “They’ve really tried to step up and be the leaders we needed this year. They’ve been here so long that we just expected that out of them and stepped up to it.”
It was a different environment this season for Breckenridge than the last time they were here. The Huskies were now the team everyone was chasing.
“They were just here to do their thing last year, no pressure,” Graham said. “But this year was different. We had to defend that title. Defend and repeat has been our motto all season.”
Added Gaines: “It’s hard to repeat in anything. We just had to keep stepping up our game and going for it. Rounds 1 and 2 were exceptionally strong, and in Round 3 they just delivered.”
Round 3 did have early drama for the Huskies. They had a nearly seven-point cushion entering the final round; however, an early fall tested their resolve.
“We were hoping to have that lead so there was a little room for error,” Graham said. “We trained them how to deal with that when it happens.”
“Anything can happen out there,” Gaines said. “It’s all about how you recover and how you fight back harder.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Breckenridge dominated the first two rounds Saturday to repeat as Division 4 champion. (Middle) Michigan Center improved one spot from 2015 to finish runner-up.
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