By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – The rebuilding process has been completed for the Breckenridge competitive cheer team.
After six years without a program due to low numbers, the Huskies returned to the top after dominating Saturday’s Division 4 Competitive Cheer Final at The DeltaPlex.
The Huskies finished with a three-round score of 754.1 and collected their eighth MHSAA title in school history.
Pewamo-Westphalia placed runner-up at 730.40, while Michigan Center’s streak of four Finals titles in a row ended with its third-place finish (726.02).
“We all knew that our goal was to win another state championship and we completely exceeded our expectations of this year,” all-state sophomore Alexandria Gillis said. “And we’re all really proud of each other.”
Breckenridge was able to compete with a full varsity squad last season for the first time in seven years and advanced to the Finals, where they placed fifth.
Deb Gaines, who co-coached with Jenna Graham, guided the team to its last Finals title in 2007 before the hiatus.
“I retired and went back to recruiting at the lower levels to start it back up,” Gaines said. “We kind of ran out of girls, the middle school program kind of fizzled and we just didn’t have enough high school kids at that point.
“We started rebuilding all those years ago, and now they’ve grown up and here we are. It’s a great feeling, and they did great. We still have a pretty young team.”
Breckenridge set the tone early and posted the Final’s high scores in every round en route to a comfortable advantage.
It scored 229.10 in Round 1 and 216.46 in Round 2. The Pirates capped off the day with a 308.70 in Round 3.
“We knew it was going to be our last performance, so we wanted to go out there and give it our all and leave it all on the mat,” Gillis said. “Leave no doubts that we didn’t do everything we could do. We went out there and fought for it.”
The Huskies led P-W by almost 15 points entering the final round, a sizable margin built by a pair of nearly flawless routines.
“When we make up our cheers, it’s all about the meaning of the cheer and what they’re saying,” Gaines said. “You mean what you say and say what you mean, and vocally they really pushed that out and everything else followed. They gained a lot of confidence the last three weeks starting at Districts and into Regionals. We saw it coming and coming.”
Graham said the final round proved to be the icing on the cake.
“We’ve had a strong Round 3 all season so they knew when the time came, if we hit it, we were going to get there,” Graham said. “They did awesome.”
It was the 10th Finals runner-up finish in school history for P-W, but it was a satisfying accomplishment after narrowly missing the Finals last season by one spot at Regionals.
The Pirates placed runner-up three straight years (2011-13) after winning the Division 4 Final in 2010.
“They were super excited, determined and worked very hard all year to get here again,” P-W coach Staci Myers said. “It was a goal just to make it and let the chips fall where they may. They just wanted to come today and perform to the best of their ability, and they were going to let where we fell where we fell.”
Myers said this year’s group, led by six seniors, improved as the season progressed.
“We did the best we could in every round (today) and they’ve improved every week,” she said. “This is the best they’ve done all year long, and they definitely peaked at the right time. We’re really proud of them for working so hard these last two weeks and just to get here has been amazing.”
Breckenridge will have the luxury of returning everyone next season in its bid to repeat. There were no seniors on this year’s team.
Instead, seven juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen paved the way.
“It’s an amazing feeling to know that everybody’s going to be back because we can get stronger with the same people we’ve had,” Gillis said.
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PHOTOS: (Top) Breckenridge cheerleaders hoist their championship trophy Saturday. (Middle) Pewamo-Westphalia added another top Finals finish at this season’s Division 4 meet.
The Paw Paw competitive cheer team has emerged as one of the state’s powerhouses especially over the last four years – and few people have had a better seat for the program’s rise than Paige Miller. The recently-graduated senior is the daughter of 13-year coach Stefanie Miller, and Paige made the Division 3 all-state first team this past winter for the third time while playing a significant role in the team posting its best Finals finishes in program history for the second-straight season.
Paw Paw finished second at the Division 3 Final in March for the second season in a row, this time just a point behind champion Richmond after coming within nine-tenths of a point of catching the Blue Devils in 2021. Miller will continue to cheer at Trine University, where she will study psychology and also compete in track & field after running on her team’s 400 and 800 relays and high jumping this past spring.
"I think it's provided me with a lot of essential skills that extend beyond the aspect of sports. It's provided me with the ability to talk and interact with others in a productive way. It allows me to push myself and others into a positive direction and also to know how to work as a team and collaborate effectively. Without sports, I don't know if I would've learned those lessons as deeply as I have.
“I’ve had some experiences, with my cheer teams, we've done tumble clinics or clinics to build up the younger program. And I'll be out at like the grocery store, and one of the little girls from the tumble clinic with come up and (say), ‘You're a Paw Paw cheerleader. I love everything you guys do. You're so cool. I want to be you guys when I grow up.’ And it's an amazing feeling to be someone that somebody looks up to.”
Second Half's weekly Title IX Celebration posts are sponsored by Michigan Army National Guard.
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