Record-Setting Forest Hills Northern Focused Next on Finals Return

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

February 21, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS – The Forest Hills Northern competitive cheer team doesn’t want to be labeled as a one-year wonder.

West MichiganThe 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.

Forest Hills Northern competes during Saturday's District on its home mat.“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 HolzwarthDean 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.)

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