Notre Dame Seniors Make Good on Promise

March 5, 2016

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

GRAND RAPIDS – The seniors on this year’s Pontiac Notre Dame Prep competitive cheer squad made a pact three years ago as freshmen after placing runner-up to Richmond in the MHSAA Final. 

They made a vow that ultimately came to fruition Saturday night.

“Our freshman year we came here as runner-up, and ever since that year us seniors made a promise that we would never have that feeling again,” Fighting Irish senior Stephanie George said. “We knew we would do everything we could to make sure we carried the team to three straight championships our senior year. We worked extremely hard these past few years to get here.” 

Notre Dame Prep’s six seniors lived up to their promise by collecting the program’s third consecutive MHSAA Division 3 championship at the DeltaPlex.

The Fighting Irish prevailed with a 775.48 total and topped runner-up Richmond, which finished at 765.86. 

Notre Dame Prep fourth-year coach Beth Campbell has watched the returning girls make their prediction after every Final.

“Every year at the completion of this, my seniors-to-be circle up on the corner and make a promise to each other that they are going to defend what the seniors started,” Campbell said. “So they made that promise last year in a circle and said that they are going to be three-time state champs. They’ve talked about it at practice since June.” 

Campbell said the ultimate goal each year is to win an MHSAA title, and steps are taken throughout the season to achieve it.

While some teams may shy away from making bold statements about future success, the Fighting Irish have embraced the challenge. 

“It’s a mindset, and the culture of our team,” Campbell said. “They make a promise and they deliver on that promise.

“When you’ve won before and have that target on your back, it can be stressful on kids. We were the underdog for so long that we’re just not afraid of it. It’s ours to lose and we’re going to do everything we can to defend it. Talking about it and not being afraid of it gives our kids the confidence to deliver.” 

Notre Dame Prep jumped out to an early lead and kept the momentum intact throughout.

“I just feel beyond blessed,” senior Lauren Kavanagh said. “These girls have worked so hard and they stuck with us seniors through the highs and lows of the entire season. I’m so happy it fell in our favor today.” 

The Fighting Irish closed with a 318.40 in Round 3 to secure the championship.

“We were told we needed to hit it, and I knew our team could do it,” senior Paige Lombardo said. “And so when we hit it, I knew it was the last round I’ll ever be doing. I just stepped off the mat and I felt relief.”

Round 3 had been a struggle for the Fighting Irish, but it finally came together toward the end of the season.

“We fell every time and it became a mental block,” Campbell said. “It was a major goal to hit that round, and they turned it on. By Districts and Regionals, it became our strongest round. They were excited and ready to perform it.” 

A similar disappointment as last year was felt by Richmond as it fell short to the Fighting Irish for the second straight.

The Blue Devils won back-to-back MHSAA championships in 2012 and 2013, but have been unable to reclaim the title the past three years. 

Richmond coach Kelli Matthes was frustrated after the results were announced.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them today,” Matthes said. “If you saw our third round, I think it was the best third round of the day. The fact that we had to go first, it just plays into the cards. 

“All I know is there are 28 ladies over there that busted their butts for me for nine months … . They are happy with how they performed, but frustrated with the outcome.”

The Blue Devils graduate only two seniors, and have a large group of eighth graders ready to make the jump. 

“The program is in great shape, no doubt about it,” Matthes said. “And we’re going to keep plugging along. Maybe at some point, things will be different.” 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep performs a routine Saturday on the way to its third straight Division 3 title. (Middle) Richmond finished runner-up for the second straight season, giving the team five top-two finishes over the last six years.

Team of the Month: Croswell-Lexington Competitive Cheer

By Geoff Kimmerly 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
Taylor Trillium Academy girls bowling - Report
Byron Center hockey - Report
Martin football - Report
Gladwin volleyball - Report
Negaunee girls tennis - Report