GRAND RAPIDS – The Forest Hills Northern competitive cheer team doesn’t want to be labeled as a one-year wonder.
The Huskies qualified for the Division 2 Final a year ago for the first time since 1998, and are currently in pursuit of another trip.
“We had a breakthrough year last year.” FHN competitive cheer coach Carly Sienkiewicz said. “It was a great year, and I think a lot of our returners were excited to try to top it if we can and live up to that expectation.
“We wanted to prove that it wasn't just a fluke year, it wasn’t just a one-time thing. It's been driven by the girls to prove that we’re here to stay.”
Last season was definitely memorable for the Huskies.
In addition to a Finals appearance, where they finished sixth, they also won their first District championship.
“It was the coolest thing ever,” FHN senior Julie Fiser said. “To make it to state always seemed like such a big goal, and then to make it there last year was unforgettable. We were all so excited and so proud, and we’ve all been fighting for the same feeling this year.
“It has been a theme for us this season. We really want to repeat it and grow as a program and sport.”
The Huskies have put themselves in position to vie for another Finals berth with another outstanding season, led by the return of seven seniors.
FHN won the Ottawa-Kent Conference White championship for the third-straight year a few weeks ago and set several school records in the process.
At the final conference meet, the Huskies established program-high marks in each round (Round 1: 230.6, Round 2: 224.2, Round 3: 318) and overall team score with a 771.5.
“They’ve been doing great,” Sienkiewicz said. “We started off the year pretty slow and we had a lot of people come in and look at our rounds and help us as much as they could with technique stuff.
“I do that every year, but this year’s team just ran with it and was really diligent about applying it and fixing little details. That has been a big help in our rounds.”
Senior Alexis Linder said the last four years have been a culmination of improving and building toward acquiring high scores.
“We’ve broken records throughout my four years, but this was exciting, especially coming against our rivals,” she said. “We pushed through some adversity.”
The senior core has led the charge in helping the Huskies make a name for themselves within the landscape of the top teams in the state.
“It's a talented group, and a group that has been with our program for a long time, most of them since freshman year,” Sienkiewicz said. “So just a lot of returners with experience who can lead the new ones along.”
FHN competed Saturday in a Division 2 District and finished third behind Cedar Springs and champion Muskegon Reeths-Puffer.
The Huskies dealt with a few setbacks earlier in the week, including an injury, but did enough to move on and place among the four qualifying teams.
“It was a little bittersweet,” Sienkiewicz said. “Obviously we’re excited to move on and have an additional week together, but I think the team had higher expectations.
“We came off a strong three-week run and the conference championship, and then things happened that hurt some of our rounds, especially Round 2. We talked about how we had to regroup and decide that we are still in this to fight. I think we are going to be stronger going into next weekend.”
Another top-four finish at Regionals would put them back into the Finals.
“It’s sad that we didn’t get as high as we wanted (at the District), but we will take it and hopefully fight for another week,” Fiser said. “We will use that lower place as motivation and beat some of those teams that we’ve gone up against. We will use that as fire.”
The Huskies will attempt to overcome the hurdles that plagued them.
“The big thing is we have to execute where we can,” Sienkiewicz said. “Since we had to take our tucks out of Round 2, if we can execute on other higher-difficulty skills then that will help optimize our score. I think we will still be in the fight.”
Added Linder: “It will be hard, but we have to stay consistent with what we’ve been doing and improve the little things. We’ve had some setbacks, but we’ve been able to come back from those and we’ll just keep fighting.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS Forest Hills Northern competes during Saturday's District on its home mat. (Photos by Jamie McNinch Photography.)
MOUNT PLEASANT – Allen Park competitive cheer coach Julie Goodwin calls Round 3 her team’s “money round.”
And did the Jaguars ever make it pay off Saturday at Central Michigan University’s McGuirk Arena.
Allen Park and Gibraltar Carlson had combined to win every MHSAA Division 2 Final championship over the last 16 seasons – and entered Round 3 this time separated by a mere 54 hundredths of a point.
That was just shy of the margin Carlson won by, over Allen Park, at last year’s championship meet. But the margin of victory this time would not be so close.
The Jaguars cashed in big with a seemingly flawless routine, their 322.40 the highest Round 3 score at the Finals in any division since 2012, and pulled away from the field to finish with 793.34 points and their fourth championship over the last five seasons.
“It felt so incredible. That was the round that we were waiting to perform all season,” Allen Park junior Abigail Obrycki said. “It felt perfect. It felt like everybody gave exactly what they were supposed to do, and it was just perfect.
“It’s what we love to do. We love stunting. We love perfecting it and getting everything exactly how it’s supposed to be.”
Allen Park led by only two tenths of a point after Round 1, with Carlson just behind, and was able to extend that lead only another 34 hundredths of a point in Round 2.
Carlson – which finished first in the Downriver League ahead of Allen Park before Allen Park won their Regional – also had to absorb a significant penalty that ended up sending the Marauders to fourth in the final standings.
“We had an amazing week of practice, we had an amazing season. It’s been a journey, it wasn’t an instant climb, and they did everything they needed,” said Allen Park coach Julie Goodwin, who was finishing her 20th season and 20th time bringing the team to the Finals. “They needed three clean rounds today, and they did it.”
Carleton Airport finished runner-up, its highest at a Finals since finishing Class B runner-up in 2003.
These last three weeks have seen the Jets certainly land among the state’s elite in just their second season under coach Emily Dusik. Airport won their District two weeks ago, just ahead of Carlson, and then finished behind Allen Park and Carlson at their Regional but with a season-high score that was six points higher than their previous best this season. The Jets also enjoyed their major surge despite moving into Division 2 after competing in Division 3 last season.
“I think (today) gave the girls a drive that they’ve never really experienced before. Being here today, it opened their eyes to their potential and really allowed them to believe in what they’re doing,” Dusik said. “We tell them all year just do your best, and we had a little bit of a tough time today and they still came out and did a great job. I’m just so proud of everything they’ve done.
“It’s kinda unbelievable right now. It’s just incredible. But it’s all the girls. I try to fill their buckets as much as possible and try to give them as much positivity to believe in themselves, and it’s really showing. They’re starting to believe that they’re capable of great things.”
Airport finished with a score of 779.92, with Dearborn Divine Child right behind at 779.84. Carlson was in that mix as well at 778.10, followed by Cedar Springs, Middleville Thornapple Kellogg, Plainwell and Muskegon Reeths-Puffer.
PHOTOS (Top) Allen Park competes during Saturday's Division 2 Finals at McGuirk Arena. (Middle) The Jaguars celebrate their fourth championship in five seasons. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)