By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Redemption was sweet for the Pontiac Notre Dame Prep competitive cheer team.
The Fighting Irish finished runners-up at last year’s Division 3 Final, but topped the eight-team field Saturday at The DeltaPlex and collected the program’s first MHSAA title.
Notre Dame Prep, making its fifth appearance at the Finals, registered a three-round total of 764.04.
Comstock Park placed runner-up with a 759.68, while Grosse Ile (749.69) was third. Two-time reigning champion Richmond (735.46) finished fourth.
“This feels great because the kids have done nothing but work every minute for this since this time last year,” Notre Dame Prep coach Beth Campbell said. “They made up their minds that we were going to come back and win this year and they did just that. Once you get that close, you want the rest, and they were awesome.”
Notre Dame Prep senior Maggie Crowe said the team used last year’s narrow loss to Richmond as motivation.
“This is probably the best feeling I’ve ever experienced in all of high school,” Crowe said. “We worked our butts off for 10 months, and everything we wanted to come true came true today.
“To come close last year, it was a ridiculous source of drive. It was a fueling fire, and we remembered how that felt.”
Fellow senior Lauren Sadowski admired the shiny medal that signified the team’s major accomplishment.
“I’m at a loss for words right now of how amazing this feels to be able to look at this gold medal in my hand and know that it’s mine,” Sadowski said. “Everything we have in our school says, ‘runner-up’, and it is so gratifying to see that it is going to change to ‘state champs.”
Comstock Park recorded its fourth runner-up finish in the last seven years under longtime coach Kathy Felty. The Panthers won MHSAA titles in 2009 and 2011.
“The girls performed great today,” Felty said. “We had new uniforms and they looked awesome, and this was a very talented team with a lot of heart.
“People look and see them crying, but we’re happy with how we did and they’re crying because it’s the last time they will be able to do this with the group together.”
The push for the championship turned into a three-team race after the opening round.
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep tallied a score of 229.9 to grab the early lead, while Grosse Ile (226.5) and Comstock Park (226.4) were within striking distance.
“Our goal in Round 1 was to come out and set the tone,” Campbell said. “It was great to see us up three right after Round 1.”
The Fighting Irish increased the advantage in Round 2, posting a high score of 223.84.
The Panthers recorded the second-highest score (220.88) and moved into second, while the Red Devils slipped to third.
Comstock Park delivered a stirring Round 3 effort and scored a 312.4, putting the pressure squarely on Notre Dame Prep to duplicate.
The Fighting Irish responded with a 310.3 to secure the title.
“I think we outscored everybody, but we just couldn’t make up that six points,” Felty said. “But we had three freshmen and a sophomore out there, so we’re happy about that.”
PHOTOS: (Top) New MHSAA Division 3 champion Pontiac Notre Dame Prep performs its Round 2 routine Saturday. (Middle) Comstock Park scored 312.4 points in Round 3 to finish runner-up. (Click for action and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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