Preview: Reigning Champs Could Set Saturday's Pace

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 26, 2021

Both divisions of Saturday's MHSAA Competitive Cheer Finals will welcome back their reigning champions, and Allen Park in Division 2 and Hudson in Division 4 have impressed again this winter. 

But there are plenty of contenders who would like to take their places, with six teams in both divisions seeking their first Finals championships in this sport. 

Spectators will be limited at Saturday's Finals, but both will be viewable with subscription on Division 2 begins competition at 10 a.m., with Division 4 at 3 p.m. 

Here's a glance at all eight teams competing in each of those divisions:  

Division 2

League finish: First in Downriver League.
Coach: Julie Goodwin, 16th season
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2020), four runner-up finishes.
Top score: 793.64.
Team composition: 27 total (six seniors, 10 juniors, nine sophomores, two freshmen.
Outlook: Allen Park has won two of the last four Division 2 championships and finished runner-up the other two seasons of that string and also 2016 as part of a five-year top-two run. 
The Jaguars are undefeated this winter and have topped 790 points five times. Seniors Skyler Longton and Kylee Dietz and juniors Adreanna Carone and Cassidy Kuhn made the all-state first team last season, junior Cassidy Reardon and sophomore Madisyn Setser made the second team and seniors Rayden Guthrie and Monica Karagozian earned honorable mentions.

League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold.
Coach: Anne Olszewski, seventh season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 762.22.
Team composition: 20 total (six seniors, eight juniors, one sophomore, five freshmen).
Outlook: Cedar Springs finished seventh at the Finals last season and has kept building this winter improving 67 points from its first three-round competition through winning its league meet. 
The Red Hawks have scored 754 or higher in three straight competitions. Junior Josilyn Slagter earned an all-state honorable mention last season.

League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue.
Coach: Candace Heskitt, 13th season
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up in 2015 and 2007.
Top score: 778.46.
Team composition: 22 total (eight seniors, nine juniors, four sophomores, one freshman).
Outlook: The Panthers rose to third at last season’s Finals and have not finished lower than second at a competition this winter – and were only 64 hundredths of a point off the lead in finishing runner-up at their Regional. 
The majority of last season’s top achievers are leading the way again. Seniors Gabrielle Cooney and Aubrey McKinley and junior Kyleigh Greenhoe made the all-state first team last season, while junior Madailein Boyle made the second team and senior Ashley Austin and junior Anneliese Phillips earned honorable mentions.

League finish: Second in Flint Metro League.
Coach: Sierra Coughlin, first season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 756.66 at Regional.
Team composition: 21 total (eight seniors, three juniors, five sophomores, five freshmen).
Outlook: Coughlin, an all-stater at Ortonville Brandon in 2015, has Kearsley headed to the Finals in her first season. 
The Hornets have upped their overall score five straight competitions and claimed a District title along the way. Seniors Isabella Baltosser and Megan Flynn earned all-region accolades last season.

League finish: First in CAAC Red.
Coach: Angela Boerkoel, ninth season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 754.5.
Team composition: 23 total (five seniors, five juniors, eight sophomores, five freshmen).
Outlook: The Bulldogs are returning to the Finals, an impressive jump after their 2020 season ended in the District. During this regular season, Mason at one point won five straight competitions including three invitationals. Senior Alexandra Erbe and juniors Karissa Burns, Madilyn Merritt and Brianna Judkins earned all-district recognition last season.  

League finish: First in O-K Green.
Coach: Amanda Heethuis, 14th season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 778.92.
Team composition: 28 total (seven seniors, nine juniors, eight sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: The Sailors are looking to build on their fifth place at last season’s Finals, and this will be their fifth championship meet trip in six seasons. They have won all but one competition this season, finishing second but with their second-highest overall score at their invitational. 
Junior Zoe Fetters made the all-state second team last season, while senior Brooklin Yokubonus and junior Mariah Bathrick earned honorable mentions.  

League finish: Fourth in Downriver League.
Coach: Colette Norscia, 18th season
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Top score: 776.10.
Team composition: 23 total (three seniors, five juniors, 11 sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: Anderson is coming off a sixth-place finish at last season’s Finals and has posted four overall sores of at least 754 and two of at least 774 – perhaps a sign of big things to come as the majority of the roster is filled with underclassmen. Senior Alexis Newman made the all-state second team last season, and senior Breanna Unis earned honorable mention.

League finish: First in Lakes Valley Conference.
Co-coaches: Amber Stocks, 11th season; and Michelle Frey, ninth season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 788.48.
Team composition: 21 total (seven seniors, five juniors, eight sophomores, one freshman).
Outlook: Walled Lake Western was fourth in Division 2 last season and this winter has finished first in six of nine competitions with a District championship among them. The Warriors then scored their highest of the season by nearly 12 points to take second at their Regional. Senior Jordan Zayed made the all-state second team last season, with senior Jocelyn Peets and junior Alyssa Fredin earning honorable mentions.

Division 4

League finish: Third in Cascades Conference.
Coach: Haley Miller, first season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 727.86.
Team composition: Nine total (four seniors, four juniors, one freshman).
Outlook: Miller was part of two Finals championship teams while competing for Michigan Center last decade and took over an Addison program that finished third in Division 4 a year ago. The Panthers also finished third at their Regional this week but with their third-highest overall score of the season. Seniors Emma Spink and Reese Pickford made the all-state second team last season, and senior Marissa Douglas earned honorable mention.

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Sarah Kope, second season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 719.98.
Team composition: 12 total (two seniors, four juniors, three sophomores, three freshmen).
Outlook: Madison was fourth in Division 4 last season and enters this weekend with a string of four straight overall scores between 713-720. Junior Lilian Wager made the all-state second team last season, and juniors Julia Mohr and Inessa Aranda earned honorable mentions.  

League finish: Tied for second in O-K Silver.
Coach: Sue Smith, eighth season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 667.08 at Regional.
Team composition: Five total (two seniors, one junior, one sophomore, one freshman).
Outlook: NorthPointe is returning after back-to-back seventh-place Finals finishes and with its four highest overall scores this winter coming over its last four competitions. While few in number, the Mustangs stand tall with past accolades with senior Kristi Smith making the all-state first team last season, senior Malia Baugh making the second and junior Lauren Henderson earning an honorable mention.  

League finish: First in West Michigan Conference.
Coach: Jennifer Hlady, 10th season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 687.86 at District.
Team composition: 13 total (two seniors, one junior, five sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: With 10 underclassmen filling most of the roster, Hart repeated as league champion and finished runner-up at both its District and Regional posting two of its four highest overall scores of the season. The Pirates have finished first or second in 11 of their 13 competitions – an impressive surge for a team that saw its season end in the District a year ago.

League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association.
Coach: Kelly Bailey, 24th season
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2020), six runner-up finishes.
Top score: 769.44.
Team composition: 20 total (six seniors, three juniors, seven sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: Hudson is riding a wave of two championships in three seasons and four straight top-two finishes. The Tigers also are surging into this weekend with their two highest scores of the season coming over their last two competitions, and they have gone above 762 three times total this winter. Seniors Kaley Bloomer and Kallahan Marry and junior Maize Sholl made the all-state first team last season, while junior Logan Parks and sophomore Cheyenne Eichler made the second team and seniors Ahna Marry and Emma Shirey and sophomore Annalyse Ames earned honorable mentions.  

League finish: Did not compete in a league this season.
Coach: Holly James, eighth season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 702.74 at District.
Team composition: Eight total (one senior, three sophomores, four freshmen).
Outlook: After missing a Finals trip last season by one place at Regionals, the last few weeks included a District title and have been a great achievement for an underclassmen-filled team. Senior Iliana Vigil and sophomore Mikayla Reynolds earned all-region recognition last season.

League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Staci Myers, 14th season
Championship history: Nine MHSAA titles (most recent 2019), 11 runner-up finishes.
Top score: 745.98.
Team composition: 10 total (five seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, one freshman).
Outlook: The Pirates have traded top-two finishes with Hudson the last two seasons, and fell short of a repeat by 2.2 points a year ago. But they won both their District and Regional and have finished lower than second only once this winter. Junior Lindsey Pohl and sophomore Emma Flanigan made the all-state first team last season, while senior Ellie Pohl made the second team and junior Halie Myers earned an honorable mention.

League finish: First in Cascades Conference.
Coach: Sarah DuBois, 20th season
Championship history: Seeking first top-two Finals finish.
Top score: 755.92.
Team composition: Nine total (six seniors, three juniors).
Outlook: Vandercook Lake has finished first or second at 10 of 12 competitions this winter on the way to returning to the Finals, and posted its five highest overall scores over its last five meets. The Jayhawks were second at both their District and Regional, but their score at the latter would have won the other Regional by 25 points. Seniors Kylie Baldwin and Breanna Ray both earned all-region recognition in 2020.

PHOTO: Hudson competes in Round 3 during last season's run to the Division 4 championship. 

Several Officials Give Time, Talents to Grant $21,000 in Scholarships at 22nd LMCCOA Meet

By Steve Vedder
Special for

February 14, 2024

Jane Plaisted thinks it's one of those rare high school sporting events where scores and winners are secondary.

Instead, the focus of the recent Lake Michigan Competitive Cheer Officials Association meet is what the event could do for 75 seniors who competed in the sprawling 45-team meet at Byron Center.

All proceeds from the event went to fund scholarships for seniors who opted to write essays and then competed in the annual 22-year-old, three-division meet. The competition, which was completely run by LMCCOA judges, raised $21,000 to up its fundraising total to over $200,000 since the meet originated in 2001.

"It was a glorious day," said Plaisted, an LMCCOA member who has participated in 15 of the competitions. "The girls are happy, we're happy to give our time and it's such a positive day. We love being a part of it."

The event drew teams from as far away as St. Johns, DeWitt, Kalamazoo and Howard City Tri County. The chance to earn scholarship money was open to all 190 seniors who competed, and 75 chose to write an essay about "talking to their younger self and determining how competitive cheer has helped the athlete," said Stacy Smith, the president of the Michigan Cheer Judges Association. Smith said much of the event's dual goal is to promote competitive cheer while helping senior athletes wherever there is a financial need.

Several officials contribute to making the meet an unforgettable experience. The meet started with just five teams and a few hundred dollars in scholarships in 2001, but has blossomed into one of the largest single-day high school sports fundraisers in the state. The meet, which has been held at Byron Center three times as well as schools such as Caledonia and East Kentwood, reached a peak of raising $25,000 a year ago.

What makes the day particularly special, Smith said, is that between 50 and 70 members of the LMCCOA annually show up to donate their time without knowing how their abilities will be put to use. In addition to judging the meet, members handle virtually every other aspect of the competition, from taking tickets, working the concession stand, filling water bottles, scoring, running a 50/50 raffle and whatever else organizers can find for them to do.

"Cheer athletes aren't always recognized a lot for their work, but it's a sport where (Michigan) colleges have gained notoriety at the national level and now offer scholarships," Smith said. "It's become a big deal in the state. Division I and II schools and NAIA schools all offer scholarships now. This can help."

Seniors who choose to participate write their essay prior to the meet, and then a committee of judges pore over the writings during the meet. Winners are announced following the competition. Twenty-one seniors were awarded scholarship money.

Smith said few parents probably grasp how much detail goes into running a long, grueling Saturday event.

"I'm not sure if people realize all the hands that have to make this happen," she said. "We've been doing it for 20 years, and for us it's like riding a bike. You never forget. It's just a wonderful day.

"I'm not surprised people want to be part of it and step up wherever they're needed."

Plaisted said judges sign up for jobs when they arrive at the meet. A judge can be officiating an event one minute and selling hot dogs moments later. The 'work wherever needed' attitude of judges, she said, is what makes the event a popular destination for participating schools.

"As officials, we emphasize young women participating," she said. "That old concept of the dumb blonde cheerleader doesn't exist anymore. This is an accomplished group of girls who we support. If you talk to any of (the judges), this meet is one of the most fun things we're going to do all season.

The LMCCOA also awarded scholarships to seniors from Division 2 and 3 schools."It's become so popular. We gave away like $50 the first year, and since then we've grown from one long day to two sessions so we could increase the number of teams. Everyone goes home with a smile on their face, which for officials doesn't always happen."

Paw Paw cheer coach Stefanie Miller, whose team won the Division 3 portion of the meet, said coaches look forward to taking their teams to the meet.

"Absolutely because it's all about community," she said. "We talk to the girls about service and giving back. It's definitely a teachable moment, not only for the kids but for the adults, too, knowing what goes to the seniors."

"What I like best is that it promotes the athletes and all the work they put in. It's about giving back to them," added Brighton coach Christina Wilson, whose team won the Division 1 competition. "So many teams want to attend, and the coaches want the players to have a chance at a scholarship.

"I'm just in awe of seeing so many people there who are willing to give their energy for the kids."

One of Miller's favorite parts of the meet is watching fathers do a cheer "jump off" of their own tongue-in-cheek cheering skills while waiting for the final scores. She also loves volunteers making nearly 200 bows for participants to wear during the meet.

"Fathers do these cheerleader-type (routines) while there is a lull and it's just great," she said. "It's fun stuff like that that makes the day so special. It's all about giving back."

PHOTOS (Top) MHSAA official Jane Plaisted takes a photo with this year’s LMCCOA Division 1 scholarship winners. (Middle) Several officials contribute to making the meet an unforgettable experience. (Below) The LMCCOA also awarded scholarships to seniors from Division 2 and 3 schools. (Photos courtesy of Stacy Smith.)