Koehler Gives State Power Rochester Another Championship-Caliber Leader
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
December 8, 2022
ROCHESTER HILLS – Understandably, Rochester competitive cheer head coach Samantha Koehler might not know exactly the emotions she will feel Friday.
After all, the occasion will mark a first in more than four decades with a Rochester program that’s historically been considered the gold standard in the state.
When the Falcons compete at their first competition of the season at Troy, it will be the first time since 1981 that somebody other than the legendary Susan Wood will be at the helm of the program.
“Even with a change in leadership, we’re eager to show the world that Rochester cheer is back and better than ever,” Koehler said.
While there will probably be some nervousness, it also might be a relief to actually get into competition mode after an offseason of transition.
Following Rochester’s fifth-place finish in March at the Division 1 Final, Wood announced her retirement after 41 years as head coach.
All Wood (formerly Susan McVeigh) did during her tenure was lead Rochester to 14 MHSAA Finals championships and three runner-up finishes between 1994 and 2017.
She also led Rochester to five Michigan Cheerleading Coaches Association state titles and three runner-up finishes before competitive cheerleading became an MHSAA-sponsored sport in 1994.
In 36 out of 41 years with Wood in charge, Rochester competed in Finals of either MHSAA or MCCA state tournaments.
But rather than look at this as having to replace an irreplaceable legend, Koehler is looking at it as a chance to continue Rochester’s rich tradition – and such an opportunity was simply too good to pass up.
“Yes, this position comes with a lot of high expectations and pressure,” Koehler admitted, while also praising the parents and team members who have helped make the transition easier. “But like George S. Patton, Jr. once said, pressure makes diamonds.”
Koehler has had plenty of success as well, having spent the last seven years as head coach at Plymouth High School, where she was named Michigan cheer Coach of the Year in 2020 after leading Plymouth to a runner-up finish in Division 1.
She also has served as the head cheerleading coach at Wayne State University and on the board for the state coaches association.
“We wanted somebody with experience that coached at a high level and had success at a high level, because that’s where we are,” Rochester athletic director Dean Allen said. “The bar is high, and keep it there. Just keep Rochester cheer as the preeminent program in the state of Michigan. That was our goal.”
Allen said the biggest challenge has been for Koehler to balance out bringing in her own ideas, but also maintaining traditions that have made the program what it is.
So far, so good.
“She’s been able to do that,” Allen said.
While the last few months have been all about getting to know her new team and community, the coming winter will be about trying to get Rochester back on top at the Finals in March.
The Falcons haven’t won Division 1 since 2017, and have seen city rivals Stoney Creek (in 2019) and Rochester Adams (2020 and 2021) claim the last three championships between them.
“We are fortunate enough to compete against two of the best teams in the state frequently throughout the season,” Koehler said. “Competing against Adams and Stoney betters our program by motivating athletes and coaches to be the best we can be each and every day. With such a talented and dedicated group of athletes, we are excited and eager to challenge our city rivals for that state championship.”
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Samantha Koehler, middle, is taking over the Rochester High competitive cheer program this season. (Middle) Koehler, with her Plymouth assistants, coach their team during the 2020 Division 1 Final. (Top photo courtesy of Dean Allen/Rochester Athletics. Middle photo by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Team of the Month: Croswell-Lexington Competitive Cheer
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
April 14, 2023
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