Stevenson Returns, Leaves as D1 Champion

March 2, 2018

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

GRAND RAPIDS -- Sterling Heights Stevenson competitive cheer coach Brianna Verdoodt clutched the hardware in her hands as tightly as she could.

“I’m sleeping with this tonight,” Verdoodt declared after her team made school history Friday at the MHSAA Division 1 Final at the DeltaPlex.

The top-ranked Titans concluded a dominating season by winning the program’s first state championship.

Stevenson tallied a three-round total of 793.22 and outlasted runner-up Rochester Adams, which finished at 790.82.

“I could not have written a better story of how this season has gone for us,” Verdoodt said. “We lost only one senior last year, so it was first time we had literally every single girl coming back. So the year started out totally different.

“We could be tough, but still love on them, and we kept pushing just as hard because we knew that we wanted this.”

The Titans placed second to Rochester a year ago and third in 2016. Last season’s was their first runner-up finish at the Finals since 2011.

“We knew we wanted a little bit more this year,” Verdoodt said. “Last year was unexpected with nine freshmen, and making it to the state finals was huge – and runner-up was just like icing on the cake.”

Stevenson capped off an incredible season that included a Macomb Area Conference Red championship and winning all but one competition.

“This is probably the best feeling of my life,” Stevenson senior Anna Long said. “I’ve been working four years to win a state championship, and this is just the best day of my life. We were all confident that we had a shot because this is the best this team has ever been, so we knew it could be done.”

The Titans drew motivation from last year’s finish, and that experience paid off for the veteran group.

“We were so close with a young team and now we’re here, state champs,” Titans senior Carolina Poliss said. “It’s crazy to be the first because we’ve been striving for years for this, and we’re doing something Stevenson has never done before.”

Stevenson trailed Adams by two tenths of a point after Round 1, but jumped into the lead with a solid Round 2 that delivered a high score of 232.72.

All that was left was Round 3, and the Titans punctuated the win with a stirring effort that combined flexibility, strength and agility.

It resulted in another high score, 322.20.

“I was a flyer in high school and I’m crazy about flexibility and things that set us apart from other people,” Verdoodt said. “We have a couple different things in our Round 3 that look odd to a normal cheer person.

“Round 3 is just a fun one, and we hold them to really high standards for all positions so they can go out and do a performance like that under pressure.”

Long said there was a sense of calm that overtook the team before its final round.

“We’re usually nervous, but we were all really confident this time and it was a different confidence than normal,” she said. “We were all really focused, and I feel like we all knew that all we had to do was hit Round 3 and show we wanted it with heart. Then we knew we could win, because our other rounds were so strong.”

Adams’ runner-up finish was its first in more than two decades. The Highlanders placed second to Rochester in Class A in 1996.

“It feels like first; it really does,” Adams coach Brooke Miller said. “They’ve worked so hard for this, and they’ve definitely fought for everything they’ve done today.”

The Highlanders, who finished fifth last season in their first trip to the Finals in 20 years, had 10 seniors leading the way.

“They really wanted it, and they did everything they could possibly do to get it,” Miller said. “We had nothing to lose tonight, and we wanted to go out there and have fun and let these 10 seniors have the best day yet.”

Two-time reigning champion Rochester took third (789.70), while Grand Blanc and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek rounded out the top five.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Sterling Heights Stevenson hoists its first Finals championship trophy in competitive cheer. (Middle) Rochester Adams celebrates its runner-up finish. 

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