Preview: Historic Opportunities Await

February 28, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

It’s easy to name some of the powers that have dominated Michigan competitive cheer over the years – and most of them will return to the MHSAA Finals this weekend in Grand Rapids.

But two of this year's title favorites are among 21 seeking to win a championship for the first time. 

Below are glances at all 32 teams competing at this weekend’s Finals at the Delta Plex. Division 1 competes at 6 p.m. Friday, followed by Division 2 at 10 a.m. Saturday, Division 4 at 2 p.m. that afternoon and Division 3 at 6 p.m. to finish the event. All four Finals will be broadcast live on and viewable on a subscription basis. Click here for the Finals draws and other important information.

Division 1

 No. 4.
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Co-coaches: Stacy Geerts, 17th season
Championship history: Two MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 2010).   
Top score: 792.76 at the District.
Team composition: 24 total (nine seniors, six juniors, six sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: East Kentwood has celebrated league, District and Regional championships this season as it sends out coach Geerts, who has announced her retirement after this weekend. The Falcons have broken 780 points six times, and the District score was the second-highest in Division 1 this season. East Kentwood also has posted the second-highest scores in Division 1 in both Round 2 (233.0) and Round 3 (321.7, tied). Senior Kylie Dunn earned all-Regional honorable mention last season.

 No. 6.
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association Gold
Coach: Christina Swansey, seventh season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 787.40
Team composition: 25 total (11 seniors, seven juniors, five sophomores, two freshmen).
Outlook: Grand Blanc is returning to the Finals for the first time since 2015. The Bobcats have won six of eight competitions this season, including their league and District meets, and their 777.50 average score ranks fifth in Division 1. Junior Alyssa Sornson earned all-District recognition last season.

Rank: No. 5.
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Coach: Julie Smith-Boyd, 37
th season
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), nine runner-up finishes.
Top score: 790.42 at the District.
Team composition: 25 total (three seniors, 10 juniors, six sophomores, six freshmen).
Outlook: Grandville graduated nearly half of its team after finishing third at last season’s Finals. But the Bulldogs continue to shine, especially in Round 2 where their best score of 232.3 ranks third in Division 1 this season. They’ve scored overall 783 or higher the last five meets. Senior Taelor Peaks made the all-state second team last season, and juniors Hailey Brower and Mackenzie Corey earned honorable mentions.

Rank: Unranked
League finish: Fifth in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Nicole Hills, fourth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 784.68 at the Regional.
Team composition: 27 total (seven seniors, five juniors, 10 sophomores, five freshmen).
Outlook: The Dragons are looking to improve on last season’s seventh-place finish at the Finals, and they’re building momentum with the Regional score 10 points better than their previous season high. Seniors Makayla Smirnow and Brooklyn Smart earned all-Regional honorable mentions last season.

Rank: No. 8.
League finish: Third in OAA Red
Coach: Susan Wood, 37
th season
Championship history: Fourteen MHSAA titles (most recent 2017), four runner-up finishes. 
Top score: 789.7 at the Regional.
Team composition: 25 total (six seniors, 16 juniors, three sophomores).
Outlook: Despite coming off two straight Division 1 championships, Rochester might not seem like a favorite this time. But that assumption is a mistake; the Falcons’ top score this season so far is actually a fraction of a point higher than entering last year’s Finals. Their best round scores also rank among the top five posted in Division 1 this season for all three; Rochester’s best Round 1 of 238.2 ranks third. Senior Christina Shepich and junior Kallie Jordan made the all-state second team last season, while senior Chanler Ross and juniors Ally Khalaf and Elizabeth Kravick earned honorable mentions.

 No. 3.
League finish: Second in OAA Red
Coach: Brooke Miller, fourth season
Championship history: Class A runner-up 1996. 
Top score: 792.46 at the Regional. 
Team composition: 24 total (10 seniors, seven juniors, four sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: After returning to the Finals last season for the first time in two decades, Adams is back for a second straight season and coming off a fifth-place finish. The Highlanders finished second in the loaded OAA Red before winning their District and coming in second at their Regional. Adams’ top Round 1 (239.0) is the best in Division 1 this season, and its best Round 3 (321.7) is tied for second-highest. Senior Natalie Keaser made the all-state second team last season, while senior Allison Mars earned honorable mention.

Rank: No. 2.
League finish: First in OAA Red
Coach: Tricia Williams, 15
th season
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2010. 
Top score: 790.96 at the Regional. 
Team composition: 26 total (three seniors, nine juniors, eight sophomores, six freshmen).
Outlook: Stoney Creek followed up last season’s fourth-place Finals finish by winning the always-strong OAA Red, and the Cougars have scored 781 or better in their last five meets. Their top Round 1 (238.2), Round 3 (321.6) and overall scores rank among the top four in Division 1, and their average total score of 778.6 ranks third. Senior Lindsey Boothe earned an all-state honorable mention last season.

Rank: No. 1.
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Coach: Brianna Verdoodt, 13
th season
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2017 and 2011. 
Top score: 794.08 at the Regional.
Team composition: 30 total (10 seniors, 18 sophomores, two freshmen) 
Outlook: Stevenson has built on last season’s runner-up finish by dominating this winter after graduating only one athlete from last year’s team. The Titans have won every meet but one league competition, where they finished second, and their average overall score this season of 786.7 is nine points higher than the rest of Division 1 and more than four better than any team in any division. They also have posted the highest Round 2 (233.4) and Round 3 (322.6) scores in the division and the second-highest in Round 1 (238.8). Seniors Lily Juncaj, Izzie Nitecki, Grace Broadworth and Carolina Poliss made the all-state first team last season, while seniors Emma Vitale and Anna Long and sophomore Genevieve DeBuck made the second and seniors Payton Porth and Emily Kleinedler earned honorable mentions.

Division 2

Rank: No. 1.
League finish: Second in Downriver League
Coach: Julie Goodwin, 13
th season
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2017 and 2010, runner-up 2016 and 2008. 
Top score: 795.18.
Team composition: 24 total (nine seniors, eight juniors, three sophomores, four freshmen). 
Outlook: Allen Park broke Gibraltar Carlson’s six-year hold on the Division 2 title last season, and has won its District and Regional this season, the latter ahead of Carlson after Carlson claimed the league title. The Jaguars have broken 791 points three times including at the District and have the top scores in every round and overall in Division 2 this season – with its Round 1 (240.0), Round 3 (322.9) and overall scores the best in Michigan regardless of division. Senior Carolyn Morris and juniors Riley Davis and Lyric Spears made the all-state first team last season, while senior Alianna Madrigal and juniors Sydney Bain and Angela Sammut made the second team and senior Celeste Sarzynski earned an honorable mention.

Rank: No. 9.
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League 
Coach: Shelley Popiel, first season
Championship history: Four runner-up finishes (most recent 2014).
Top score: 772.74 at the Regional.
Team composition: 28 total (six seniors, seven juniors, nine sophomores, six freshmen).
Outlook: Divine Child will continue as a Finals regular and posted its top two overall scores in the District and Regional for Popiel, a former competitor for the Falcons and the junior varsity coach the last two seasons. Divine Child is particularly strong in Round 1 and Round 3, where it’s top scores of 236.1 and 318.4, respectively, both rank fifth in Division 2 this season. The Falcons placed fourth at last year’s Finals, with senior Kristina Waldenmeyer earning an all-state honorable mention.

Rank: No. 10.
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Red 
Coach: Candace Heskitt, 10th season
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2015 and 2007.
Top score: 774.7 at the Regional. 
Team composition: 26 total (10 seniors, six juniors, four sophomores, six freshmen).
Outlook: DeWitt opened this season with five straight first-place finishes after missing last season’s Finals, a rarity for the Panthers. They are again among the elite, with that Regional score ranking as the sixth highest in the division for the entire season. Senior Mackenzie Smith made the all-Regional first team in 2017, while seniors Emma Mollitor, Macy Hendershot and Elizabeth VanderWoude also earned all-Regional recognition.

Rank: No. 2.
League finish: First in Downriver League
Coach: Ayrn Ziesmer, fourth season
Championship history: Nine MHSAA titles (most recent 2016), five runner-up finishes.
Top score: 793.70 at the District.
Team composition: 22 total (six seniors, two juniors, seven sophomores, seven freshmen).
Outlook: Carlson missed a seventh straight Division 2 title last winter by six hundredths of a point, and the Marauders surely have been looking forward to this weekend. They’ve scored more than 780 points seven times this winter, and their best scores are second to only rival Allen Park’s in Round 2 (232.8), Round 3 (322.2) and overall. Seniors Hannah Pryba, Samantha Zdankiewicz, Katy Bradly and Emily Scheffler all made the all-state first team last year, while seniors Morgan Thomas and Kayla Wise made the second team and junior Summer Bojarski and sophomore Samantha Hamel earned honorable mentions.

Rank: No. 4.
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Black
Coach: Chris Hudson, ninth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 784.90 at the District.
Team composition: 27 total (six seniors, seven juniors, six sophomores, eight freshmen). 
Outlook: Kenowa Hills has reached the Finals every season under Hudson and finished fifth last year. The Knights have taken first or second in all of their competitions this season, and their highest scores rank fourth in Division 2 for every round and overall – their average total score of 764.4 also ranks fourth in the division. Senior Brianne Elliott made the all-state first team last season, while senior Hannah Blauw made the second and senior Megan Titus earned honorable mention.

Rank: No. 3.
League finish: Second in O-K Black
Coach: Amanda Heethuis, 11th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 789.12.
Team composition: 28 total (nine seniors, five juniors, six sophomores, eight freshmen).
Outlook: Mona Shores is making its fourth Finals appearance in five seasons and placed third a year ago. The Sailors have taken first at 10 competitions including their District and Regional and are particularly strong in Round 1 (239.0) and Round 2 (232.3) where those best scores rank second and third, respectively, in the division this season. Senior Grace VanArendonk and sophomores Madison Mills and Logan Potts made the all-state first team last year, while senior Hailey Diffell made the second and junior Erica Dakin earned honorable mention.

Rank: No. 6.
League finish: Third in O-K Black
Coach: Brittany Hoffman, fourth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.
Top score: 773.08.
Team composition: 24 total (six seniors, six juniors, three sophomores, nine freshmen).
Outlook: Reeths-Puffer is making its second straight trip to the Finals after making its first ever a year ago and finishing eighth. Round 1 is a strength, and the team’s top score in that round of 235.3 ranks sixth in the division this season; the Rockets’ average total score of 745.6 also ranks sixth in Division 2. Senior Lydia Dinger made the all-state first team last season.

 No. 5.
League finish: Third in Downriver League
Co-coaches: Stacey Shaw, fourth season
Championship history: Division 1 champions 2012-14. 
Top score: 780.74.
Team composition: 23 total (10 seniors, five juniors, three sophomores, five freshmen).
Outlook: One of the state’s top Division 1 programs this decade, Anderson is in the Division 2 Finals this time emerging from the Downriver League with Allen Park and Carlson. The Titans are only behind those two in average total score in Division 2 this season at 766.6. Senior Emily Plaza and junior Mackenzie Livernois earned all-District recognition in Division 1 last season as the team missed championship weekend by finishing sixth at a Regional that produced four of the top five placers at the Finals.

Division 3

Rank: No. 8.
League finish: First in CAAC White
Coach: Yvonne Ridge, 15th season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 758.66 at the District.
Team composition: 23 total (one senior, six juniors, six sophomores, 10 freshmen). 
Outlook: The Orioles finished sixth in Division 2 last season and could rely on a strong Round 3 to move into the upper half in Division 3; their top Round 3 score of 315.9 ranks third in the division this season. Charlotte won seven of its first eight competitions this winter and stormed back to win its Regional as well. Junior Mady Conklin made the all-state second team in Division 2 last season, and junior Lauren Wietzke earned an honorable mention.

Rank: No. 10.
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue.
Co-coaches: Kathy Felty, 28
th season; Stacey Molis, first season. 
Championship history: Division 3 champions 2011 and 2009, three runner-up finishes. 
Top score: 747.12 at the Regional.
Team composition: 23 total (five seniors, four juniors, five sophomores, nine freshmen). 
Outlook: Comstock Park is a regular among the top four in Division 3 and came in fourth last season. The Panthers will work for another high finish in what reportedly will be Felty’s last meet before Molis takes over the program next winter. They’ve finished first or second at 10 competitions this season, including the District. Seniors Jakela Davis and Haleigh Brown made the all-state second team last season, and junior Shaelyn Scott earned honorable mention.

 No. 7.
League finish: First in Great Northern Upper Peninsula Conference
Coach: Kristopher Langlois, fourth season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 748.36.
Team composition: 24 total (nine seniors, eight juniors, two sophomores, five freshmen).
Outlook: After missing last season’s Finals, Escanaba is back for the second time in three seasons and has won all of its competitions but the Regional this winter. The Eskymos’ top Round 3 score of 313.0 ranks seventh in the division, as does its average total score of 732.6. Seniors Victoria Collins and Karlie Ohman earned all-Regional recognition last season.

Rank: Unranked.
League finish: Third in Huron League
Coach: Tanya Vaughn, fourth season
Championship history: Class C-D champion 1998, two runner-up finishes.
Top score: 759.94 at the Regional.
Team composition: 23 total (three seniors, six juniors, eight sophomores, six freshmen). 
Outlook: Flat Rock is coming off a fifth-place finish at last season’s Finals, and will make its return thanks to topping its previous best score this season by 26 points at the Regional. That Regional score ended up as the seventh-highest in Division 3 this season, and the Rams’ best scores in all three rounds all rank among the top 10 in the division as well. Senior Maya Schroeder earned all-Regional honorable mention in 2017.

Rank: No. 5.
League finish: First in Greater Lansing Activities Conference.
Co-coaches: Kim Martin, 24
th season; Renee Carigon, 23rd season; Melissa Sandborn, first season
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish. 
Top score: 759.70.
Team composition: 22 total (five seniors, five juniors, 10 sophomores, two freshmen).
Outlook: Lakewood has finished sixth at the last two Finals and enters this weekend having posted its three highest scores this season over the last three events. The Vikings had won all of their competitions this season before finishing second at the Regional. All three of their high round scores rank among the top seven in Division 3; the Round 1 (232.8) and Round 3 (313.7) both rank fifth. Junior Dixie Moorman earned an all-state honorable mention last season.

Rank: No. 3.
League finish: First in Huron League.
Coach: Sara Griffin, 10th season.
Championship history: Seeking first MHSAA Finals top-two finish.

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