By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Allen Park took its turn Saturday with the upper hand in one of Michigan’s best – and most intense – high school rivalries.
The Jaguars got the better of Downriver League and regional competitive cheer rival Gibraltar Carlson during the morning’s MHSAA Division 2 Finals at the Delta Plex.
“It was our year,” said 15th-year Allen Park coach Julie Goodwin, who previously guided the Jaguars to Division 2 titles in 2010 and 2017. “To be the best, you have to beat the best. Today was our day.”
The two schools now have combined to win the past 13 Division 2 cheer titles – Carlson has 10 and Allen Park three.
Allen Park triumphed in convincing fashion, posting the highest score in all three rounds to win by nearly three full points, a relatively lopsided victory in a rivalry that often is decided by tenths of a point.
Allen Park won with 790.88, and Carlson was second with 787.96. DeWitt (775.70) edged Walled Lake Western (775.14) for third place, and Muskegon Mona Shores (767.96) rounded out the top five.
Making the title even more impressive was the fact the Jaguars won it with no returning first team all-staters and just two seniors, co-captains Jessika Palmarchuk and Emily Obrycki-Smith.
“The past three years I’ve had eight, nine and eight seniors; now this year I only have two,” said Goodwin, who is assisted by Meghan Terry, Kim Isom, Tina Johnson, Jessica Tremonti and Theresa Couturier. “But that doesn’t change our approach at all. I do have 11 juniors, and they are a very strong, committed, bonded team this year.”
Allen Park led Carlson by 1.1 points after Round 1, then extended that lead slightly to 1.52 points after Round 2.
At that point, Goodwin broke from tradition.
“She doesn’t usually tell us (the scores), so we’re kind of blind, but she told us this year,” said Palmarchuk, a flyer. “It made us fell less nervous. We knew if we went out there and hit it, that (the title) would be ours.”
The Jaguars, performing fourth out of eight teams in the pivotal Round 3, put an exclamation point on their victory with a solid stunting performance and a score of 321.90.
That put tremendous pressure on Carlson, which went seventh in the final round. The Marauders proved their mettle with a strong showing, but their score of 320.50 was not enough.
All that was left after that was the official announcement. With all eight teams huddled on the mat, the public address announcer revealed Carlson as the runner-up, which led to an explosion from the Allen Park team, coaches and fans, who chanted: “AP! AP!”
The 11 juniors for Allen Park, who will be asked to step up to leadership roles next year, are Kylee Dietz, Cloe Dobbs, Alaina Frazier, Rayden Guthrie, Haylee Jent, Monica Karagozian, Rachel Kleinow, Skyler Longton, Hailey Lopez, Gailey Tuttle and Olivia Watts.
Carlson has posted 11 overall cheer titles, which rank second in state history behind Rochester’s 14, and now has six runner-up finishes. The Marauders beat Allen Park last month for the conference title, but took second to the Jaguars at their Regional.
First-year Carlson coach Emily Howard was seeking to become the sixth cheer head coach to lead the school to a Finals title.
“It’s a great rivalry and it’s not over, that’s for sure,” said Howard, an assistant coach last year who moved up to replace Ann Hajec, who led the team to the 2019 championship in her only season as head coach. “They had the edge all day today.”
Carlson cheer has not finished worse than second at the Finals since 2007.
Southgate Anderson took sixth, followed by Cedar Springs and Charlotte.
PHOTOS: (Top) Allen Park celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday at the Delta Plex. (Middle) Gibraltar Carlson performs a routine on the way to a runner-up finish.
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