Preview: Could Friday Finals See New Challengers?

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 25, 2021

Friday's MHSAA Division 1 and 3 Competitive Cheer Finals at Michigan State University's Breslin Center will include the reigning champions from both divisions and a handful of other contenders we're used to seeing compete during the season's final weekend. 

But could this also be another opportunity for a new contender to break through? Rochester Adams won its first championship last season in Division 1, but Plymouth also finished among the top two for the first time. Richmond and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep seem to trade off being the best in Division 3, but Paw Paw is undefeated this season and Croswell-Lexington is another program on the rise.

Spectators will be limited at Friday's Finals, but both will be viewable with subscription on Division 3 begins competition at 10 a.m., with Division 1 at 3 p.m. 

Here's a glance at all eight teams competing in each of those divisions (with Division 2 and 4 previews to be published later Friday):  

Division 1

League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West.
Coach: Christina Wilson, seventh season
Championship history: Class A runner-up 1999.
Top score: 788.38.
Team composition: 22 total (five seniors, 10 juniors, two sophomores, five freshmen).
Outlook: Brighton, which also won the overall KLAA title, will be making its fourth Finals appearance in five seasons and is looking to improve on last year’s sixth-place finish at a very tightly-contested Division 1 meet. Brighton’s last three overall scores this season have been 781 or higher to go with wins at the KLAA, District and Regional meets. Seniors Sage Spangler, Gabrielle Ditto and Riley Harvill earned all-region recognition last season. 

League finish:
 Did not compete in a league this season.
Coach: Tara Hazey, 10th season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 783.9.
Team composition: 24 total (four seniors, three juniors, two sophomores, 15 freshmen).
Outlook: Woodhaven is returning to the Finals for the first time since 1995, the latest in a string of accomplishments the last few seasons that also included the program’s first District title in 2019. The Warriors have scored at least 770 points three of their last four competitions. Seniors Marla Matatall, Marisela Vazquez and Brooke Sadlowski and junior Kennedy Stewart earned all-district honors last season. 

League finish: Did not compete in a league this season.
Coach: Christina Swansey, 10th season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 782.8.
Team composition: 21 total (four seniors, seven juniors, seven sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: Grand Blanc competed only four times this season, but the Bobcats made them count scoring at least 770 at all four and winning their District. They just missed its first top-two Finals finish a year ago, coming in third but less than two points off the lead. Senior Isabella Andre made the all-state second team last season, and junior Jackie Kloph earned an honorable mention. 

League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red.
Coach: Julie Smith-Boyd, 40th season
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), nine runner-up finishes.
Top score: 784.44.
Team composition: 23 total (three seniors, eight juniors, three sophomores, 10 freshmen).
Outlook: Despite missing last season’s Finals, Grandville is among a group of near-yearly qualifiers and finished top-two as recently as 2016. The Bulldogs have scored 780 points four times this winter including to win their District and finish second at their Regional. Seniors Charli Sanchez, Chloe Beatty, Ellie Irwin and juniors Elyse Friberg and Ashley Lam earned all-district recognition last season. 

League finish: Third in Oakland Activities Association Red.
Coach: Niki Hills, seventh season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 784.02.
Team composition: 27 total (seven seniors, eight juniors, six sophomores, six freshmen).
Outlook: Lake Orion is another Finals regular and finished seventh last season. The Dragons have scored 772 or higher their last six competitions, and finished second at their District less than two points off the lead. Senior Tara Koncelik made the all-state first team last season.

League finish: First in KLAA East.
Coach: Samantha Kerr, sixth season
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2020.
Top score: 788.66 at District.
Team composition: 32 total (five seniors, 13 juniors, 10 sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: Plymouth posted its top Finals finish ever just a year ago and could be building toward another grand finale with scores of 780 or better its last four competitions. The Wildcats won their District and finished second at both the KLAA overall conference meet and their Regional. Juniors Allison Cassar, Avery Maruszewski and Natalia Muzquiz made the all-state first team last season.

League finish: First in OAA Red.
Coach: Brooke Miller, seventh season
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2020, three runner-up finishes.
Top score: 791.96.
Team composition: 28 total (seven seniors, 10 juniors, nine sophomores, two freshmen).
Outlook: After finishing Division 1 runner-up two straight seasons, Adams claimed its first title in 2020 and might be the team to chase again this weekend. The Highlanders have scored at least 790 points in four meets and won every competition but one where they finished second. Seniors Claire Crutchfield and Olivia Ris made the all-state first team last winter, senior Ava Bondra and juniors Julia Schultz and Christina Truszkowski made the second team and seniors Carly Schultz and Melina Catenacci and junior Sabrina Lee earned honorable mentions. 

League finish: Second in OAA Red.
Coach: Tricia Williams, 18th season
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2019 and 2010.
Top score: 788.48.
Team composition: 19 total (three seniors, 11 juniors, one sophomore, four freshmen).
Outlook: Stoney Creek is another frequent Finals participant back after missing the trip a year ago. The Cougars have scored at least 783 points at three competitions including in finishing third at their Regional. Senior Avery McNamara and junior Ella DeGraw earned all-region recognition in 2020. 

Division 3

League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference.
Coach: Kelly Gibson, second season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two finish.
Top score: 714.78 at Regional.
Team composition: 15 total (six seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: Alma was a solid second in the TVC, taking second at all four league competitions and scoring at least 675 at all four. Gibson is only four years removed from cheering for the Panthers and led them to a league title in her first season a year ago. Seniors Christa Fornusek and Victoria Gotaas earned all-region honors last season.

League finish: Second in Interstate 8 Athletic Conference.
Coach: Kristen Tucker, sixth season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 720.86 at Regional.
Team composition: 19 total (nine seniors, four juniors, six sophomores).
Outlook: After making Regionals for the fourth straight season, Pennfield took the next step with third place to make it to this weekend’s meet. The Panthers also won three invitationals during the regular season. Seniors Makayla Woolman, Jaidyn Pike and Cathrine Govier and juniors Madison Bommersbach and Delainee Etheridge earned all-district recognition last winter. 

League finish: First in O-K Silver.
Coach: Hayley Strickland, third season
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2011), four runner-up finishes.
Top score: 757.66.
Team composition: 22 total (six seniors, five juniors, seven sophomores, four freshmen)
Outlook: The Panthers finished fifth at last season’s Finals and followed up by placing first or second at all but one competition this season. They’ve scored less than 700 points only once and at least 730 in four straight meets. Senior Madison Kucharczyk is a returning all-state first teamer, seniors Shanthony Taylor and Niyah Gill made the second team last season and sophomore Delaney Geraghty earned honorable mention. 

League finish: Second in Blue Water Area Conference.
Coach: Katie Tomlinson, sixth season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 767.76 at District.
Team composition: 17 total (three seniors, five juniors, five sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: Last season’s fourth-place finisher was within five points of coming in runner-up. The Pioneers have gone over 755 points four times this winter and 764 or higher in both of their last two meets. Juniors Taylor Johnson and Ashley Peyerk made the all-state second team last season, and junior Sage Kellerman earned an honorable mention. 

League finish: First in Huron League.
Coach: Katelynne Zipfel, second season
Championship history: Class C-D champion 1998, two runner-up finishes.
Top score: Not submitted.
Team composition: 17 total (six seniors, six juniors, three sophomores, two freshmen).
Outlook: Flat Rock scored 742 at its District and 762 at its Regional on the way back to the Finals. The Rams finished third at both but also within three points of winning both – and the Regional included annual powers Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, Croswell-Lexington and Richmond. Seniors Kassandra Corrujedo and Kylee Marrow earned all-region in 2020. 

League finish: First in Wolverine Conference.
Coach: Stefanie Miller, 12th season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 779.44.
Team composition: 22 total (four seniors, eight juniors, four sophomores, six freshmen).
Outlook: Paw Paw finished third last season, only two points out of second, and has won every competition it has competed in this season. Paw Paw has scored at least 770 points four times and 776 or more the last three. Senior Mackenzie Miller and junior Paige Miller made the all-state first team last season, juniors Rylee Goldberg and Alexis Sunlin made the second and junior Gabby Oh earned an honorable mention. 

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Beth Lockhart, eighth season
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), three runner-up finishes.
Top score: 772.34 at District.
Team composition: 24 total (five seniors, six juniors, five sophomores, eight freshmen).
Outlook: Last season’s runner-up finish was Notre Dame Prep’s second straight and eighth-consecutive top-two finish in Division 3. The Fighting Irish bounced back from finishing second to Richmond at the District to winning their Regional. Senior Olivia Duoba is a returning all-state first teamer, juniors Grace Byrne and Riley Lumm and sophomore Raylynn Quasarano made the second and senior Sydney Hoeppner earned an honorable mention. 

League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference.
Coach: Kelli Matthes, 13th season
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2020), five runner-up finishes.
Top score: 781.87 at District.
Team composition: 23 total (one senior, eight juniors, eight sophomores, six freshmen).
Outlook: Richmond has won the last two Division 3 titles and finished first or second nine of the last 10 seasons. The Blue Devils’ low score is 744.44 and they won all of their competitions before finishing fourth at the Regional – but still, only 4.1 points out of first that day. Juniors Makenna Parker and Gracie Ellis made the all-state first team last season, and junior Ava Moskwa made the second team. 

PHOTO: Paw Paw competes in Round 1 of last season's Division 3 Competitive Cheer Finals.

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