Soaring Stevenson Building On Big Finish

February 13, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The best parts of last season never really ended for the Sterling Heights Stevenson competitive cheer team.

And to look at it another way, this season’s fabulous run got its start during the closing weeks of last year’s march to a Division 1 runner-up finish.

With only one senior a year ago, Stevenson came in second to champion Rochester, after taking third at the MHSAA Finals in 2016 and seventh in 2015.

But taking that next step was only part of the motivation for the Titans – the MHSAA/Applebee’s statewide “Team of the Month” for January. Just as important was a commitment made two weeks before last season’s championship meet, when a group of leaders – including many who are now finishing four-year varsity careers – told the rest of their teammates they would all be coming back this winter, and they would pick right back up where they left off.

“We used that right from the start this season,” said coach Brianna Verdoodt, who is in her 13th season leading the program. “We’ve pushed just as hard as last season, but this year is cool. We can be super intense, but we have so many more opportunities to love on them too, which is what you go into coaching to do. This year is the most fun year of coaching I’ve had because of that.”

Stevenson enters Saturday’s District at Warren Mott with the top scores in Division 1 this season for every round – 238.3, 233.4 and 322.1, respectively – and overall at 792.2. The top-ranked Titans’ average score of 785.3 is nine points better than the second-highest in Division 1 and more than four points higher than any team in any division this winter.  

And they owned January. First came a Division 1-2 and overall win at the Richmond Invitational, where they scored 10 more points than the reigning Division 3 runner-up Blue Devils. Stevenson bested the field at its Titan Invitational on Jan. 20, finishing three points ahead of current No. 3-ranked Rochester Adams in Division 1 and posting the highest score against an overall field that also included reigning Division 3 champ Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, Richmond and Division 2 No. 5 Southgate Anderson.

A week later, Stevenson won the Lake Orion Invitational, finishing 2.5 points better than runner-up Rochester in the Division 1 competition and posting the top score regardless of division against a field that again included Notre Dame Prep, plus reigning Division 2 champion Allen Park and runner-up Gibraltar Carlson.

But it was actually part of a second-place showing to start the season that added another rev to the Titans’ drive this winter. Stevenson finished second at its first competition, the Troy Invitational on Dec. 9, but Verdoodt posted her team’s three rounds on Facebook – and the Round 1 has more than 1 million views, tons of positive comments and shares that took the routine all over the world.

Verdoodt thinks another second-place finish has come right at the right time as well. Although the Titans clinched the Macomb Area Conference Red championship, they finished second to No. 7-ranked Warren Cousino in the final league competition last week.

The next day’s practice was the team’s best practice all season, Verdoodt said.

“It brought it back home for them – they haven’t won anything yet, nothing that matters,” Verdoodt said. “It was wonderful. It needed to happen, and I’d rather it happen now.”

Last year’s pep talk helped take the pressure off heading into the biggest meets because nearly the entire team would have another chance to compete together. This team of 22 athletes includes 10 seniors – and after having to press some directly into varsity action from junior high last winter, Verdoodt has been able to get more creative because of her team’s added strength and experience.

Lily Juncaj, Izzie Nitecki, Grace Broadworth and Carolina Poliss are all seniors who made the all-state first team last season, and total nine athletes from last year's team earned some level of all-state recognition.

The perspective will be different this time with so many seniors finishing their high school careers – and the opportunity to win the first cheer championship in school history surely will be a motivator in the three weeks to come.

“They just get it. They all knew what it felt like to take second place in the state, coming from a team that if you’d seen at the beginning of (last) season – Good Lord,” Verdoodt said. “They were so excited about that.

“But then they kinda realized, ‘Hey, we can actually do this.’”

Past Teams of the Month, 2017-18
December: Cadillac boys bowling - Report
November: Ottawa Lake Whiteford football - Report
Beaverton volleyball - Report
Shepherd girls golf - Report

PHOTO: (Top) The Sterling Heights Stevenson competitive cheer team has 22 athletes, including 10 seniors. (Photos courtesy of the Stevenson cheer program.)

Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

March 10, 2023

SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.

Greater DetroitThat question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”

“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.

It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.

Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.

It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.

“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”

Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.

The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.

“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”

Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.

But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.

Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.

Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.

“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”

Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.

With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.

“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.

Both also learn from each other’s experiences.

“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”

Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”

This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.

With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.

That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.

But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.

With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)