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. 

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