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.
Click for full results.
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 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
January: Taylor Trillium Academy girls bowling - Report
December: Byron Center hockey - Report
November: Martin football - Report
October: Gladwin volleyball - Report
September: Negaunee girls tennis - Report