By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
GRAND RAPIDS – When Southgate Anderson’s seniors were sophomores two years ago, they played huge roles in the Titans winning their first MHSAA competitive cheer championship.
And because those sophomores already acted like seniors even then, coach Colette Norscia felt pretty confident that title was only a start.
Her hunch was correct. That group of seven athletes, now seniors, led Anderson to its third straight MHSAA title Friday at the DeltaPlex,
The Titans scored 785.96 points, 2.42 more than runner-up Grandville after both trailed Rochester Hills Stoney Creek by three tenths of a point after Round 1.
“We’ve been cheering together since we were really little, and we stuck with it all through these years,” Anderson senior Holly Zmijewski said. “We just want to prove who we are, and that we don’t go backward. We just keep going forward.”
But it took a little kick to get the Titans rolling again.
Anderson competes in the Downriver League, which also includes reigning Division 2 champion Gibraltar Carlson and Finals qualifiers Allen Park and Trenton. The Titans finished second at their league competition, four points back of Carlson, which is nothing to scoff but disappointed those seniors nonetheless.
But it also brought perspective to underclassmen who weren’t yet part of the program prior to this championship run.
Norscia knew walking into the DeltaPlex on Friday that her team was prepared every possible way.
“It’s hard to get it, but it’s harder to keep it every year,” Norscia said. “The kids, once they have it, not all of them are so gung-ho about keeping it, working to that level, and I think we got scrutinized a little bit more as well.
“Those sophomores on the team that first year we won, they were strong and carried us through,” she added. “They learned a lot from that senior group, and they’ve been teaching each group that comes in. Our next two classes are just as strong, and actually our eighth grade group is incredible.”
All seven seniors – Marisa Laginess, Madison Small, Zmijewski, Jacklyn Carrico, Haley Evans, Aleta Madera and Brittany Walton – earned all-state honors as juniors.
Stoney Creek set the pace with a 235.20 to lead Round 1. But Anderson posted the highest Round 2 score in Division 2 this season and put up a 231.46 on Friday, two points better than both Stoney Creek and Grandville.
Grandville responded with a strong 319.20 in Round 3. But that was bested by only Anderson, by four tenths of a point.
“It’s hard to have to go out there three times, and have to peak three times, and we did,” Grandville coach Julie Smith-Boyd said. “We weren’t playing defense. … We were going for it. We wanted to win.
“But when you’re a senior, or even for any of these girls, we want them to go out just feeling great about it. They gave their all, did their best, and it was that way every single round. We’re just really proud of them.”
The Bulldogs improved from eighth at the 2012 Final to fourth last season to second and have only six seniors – including only two in Round 2, and with a couple freshmen who contributed in Round 3.
A pair of sad circumstances – two athletes’ mothers died during the fall after fights with breasts cancer – bonded the team as it took another giant step.
“These girls just really bonded together really tight, pulled together and supported each other through the whole thing. And I really felt that made them stronger at the end,” Smith-Boyd said. “Because we said, what we’ve been through was far worse than we have to go out there and do. We made it through that; we can do this.
“We did it the best we could do it. Southgate obviously did too.”
Macomb Dakota ascended from seventh after Round 1 to finished third in the final standings. Lake Orion, eighth after Round 1, came in fourth in its return to the Finals after missing last season.
PHOTOS: (Top) Southgate Anderson performs its Round 3 routine Friday at the DeltaPlex. (Middle) Grandville, this season’s runner-up, improved from fourth place in 2013. (Click for action and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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