Richmond Holds Off New Challenger to Complete 3-Peat

By Tom Kendra
Special for

March 26, 2021

EAST LANSING – Richmond getting pushed at the Competitive Cheer Finals is nothing new.

The difference Friday was there was a new team applying the pressure at the Division 3 Final at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

Richmond led upset-minded Paw Paw by a miniscule three tenths of a point heading into the pivotal Round 3, but called on its experience and tradition to deliver a clutch performance and capture its third straight championship.

“There was not one ounce of doubt from anyone that we were going to do it,” said Richmond junior Gracie Ellis, one of two returning all-staters for the Blue Devils, along with fellow junior Makenna Parker.

Richmond took first at 771.62, followed by Paw Paw (770.72) and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (767.42), which had finished either first or second for seven consecutive years.

While none of the Blue Devils had any doubt, it’s safe to say many outsiders may have wondered whether they were capable of a “three-peat.”

For one thing, Richmond lost 10 seniors off last year’s championship team and 13th-year coach Kelli Matthes fielded one of her youngest teams – and one of the youngest teams at the Finals in any division. Jenna Jaissle is the only senior on Richmond’s 23-athlete roster.

Then the Blue Devils placed a surprising fourth at Tuesday’s Regional competition.

“That kind of re-lit our fire and made us determined to go out with a bang,” said Jaissle.

Matthes said her team had another source of motivation which might have provided the extra .9 of a point it needed.

“On March 3, we lost our football coach after a five-year battle with cancer,” said Matthes, referring to 10-year Richmond head coach John Kocher. “We dealt with the COVID issue all season like everyone else, but maybe we had a little something extra.”

Richmond, which finished second to Notre Dame Prep for four consecutive years before breaking through with titles the past two seasons, looked dominant in Friday’s opening round – posting a 233.30 score, which was a full 2.4 points better than second-place Notre Dame and 2.9 points better than third-place Paw Paw.

Paw Paw Cheer

But Paw Paw, which had never finished higher than third at a Finals, moved up to within a whisker of Richmond with a near-perfect Round 2 routine.

The Red Wolves then delivered an outstanding final round to put the pressure on Richmond, meaning one mistake or bobble by the two-time reigning champ could give Paw Paw its first-ever Finals title.

Going last in the eight-team field, the young Blue Devils showed the focus and grit of seasoned veterans to pull out the win. Richmond’s final-round score of 314.80 allowed it to hold off the challenge from Paw Paw (314.20 in the final round).

In addition to returning all-staters Ellis and Parker, Richmond’s strong, eight-person junior class also includes returning second-team all-stater Ava Moskwa. The Blue Devils also have eight sophomores and six freshmen.

After the competition, it looked like there were co-champions as Paw Paw coach Stefanie Miller, in her 12th year, proudly clutched the runner-up trophy.

“These ladies have worked tirelessly to get to this point,” said an emotional Miller, who coached both of her daughters this year – Mackenzie, a senior, and Paige, a junior.

“It’s incredible to share an experience like this with my daughters. To do something that the three of us all love so much and to make school history at the same time, that’s pretty special.”

Click for full team standings.

PHOTOS: (Top) Richmond celebrates Friday's Division 3 championship won at the Breslin Center. (Middle) Paw Paw finished runner-up, its highest finish in program history. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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