CEDAR SPRINGS – It’s been more than 15 years since a competitive cheer team from the west side of the state has won a Division 2 Finals championship.
Cedar Springs is attempting to change that.
The Red Hawks entered the week ranked No. 3 in Division 2 behind perennial powerhouses Allen Park and Gibraltar Carlson.
“Our end goal with the program is not to just make it a goal to be at the state meet, it’s to win it.” Cedar Springs coach Katy Hradsky said. “No one else from around the area has won in Division 2 since 2007, and I know it's a hefty goal, and a lot to say out loud, but at the same time who else is going to do it? Why not us?”
Holland Christian claimed the last Division 2 title before Allen Park and Gibraltar began dominating. The two schools have combined to win the last 16 Division 2 Finals.
“At this point, we know how high we can score and we know what our potential is,” senior Taylor Shadley said. “We are done playing small, and we feel like we should go hard every competition in order to achieve those goals – because why not us?
The Red Hawks’ best Finals finish recently was fifth in 2019. The program made four consecutive trips (2019-2022) before failing to reach championship weekend a year ago.
That disappointment still runs deep for the returning athletes.
“It was really heartbreaking because we went through a lot of adversity throughout our season,” Shadley said. “It was disappointing for us, but it gave us more motivation going into this year.”
Said senior Hannah Wright: “We have a lot of motivation this year. We struggled to do it last year and some obstacles got in our way from getting there, but I think this year we’ve really buckled down and gotten stronger as a team. We’re even more motivated.”
The Red Hawks weathered a tough start this season due to illness and injury and placed third in their first two competitions. They got back on track earlier this month and won their own invitational.
“It was a very rough start to the season, but it's getting there,” said Hradsky, who’s in her third year at the helm but has been a part of the program for the past decade.
“We were really young last year, and we’re still young. Our freshman and sophomore classes outweigh our junior and senior classes by about five, but it doesn't mean they are any less talented or skilled than any other team that I’ve had here. They are just as motivated as last year, if not more.”
In addition to Shadley and Wright, the following also compete in all three rounds: senior Kennedy Klocko, juniors Kadee Rypma, Ashley Buckley and Sarah Buckley; sophomores Taylor Verduin, Marley Salisbury and Brynn Nesbitt; and freshmen Lily Maddox and Ella Roth.
“Our biggest strengths are rounds 1 and 2, and we have worked really hard to get some of those skills back that we didn’t have last year in round 2,” Hradsky said. “We made it our goal all sideline season and at the start of the competitive season to make sure those skills are as perfect as they can be.”
Round 3 is still a work in progress, according to Shadley.
“We are seeing what works for everybody, and we have a lot of girls who are able to be moved around,” she said. “It’s just getting things to click.”
“The bond we have helps, and our coaching is structured,” Wright added. “The coaches know what they are doing, and they know what to give us to motivate us. It’s a very welcoming place to learn, grow and make mistakes.”
The recent winter weather has wreaked havoc on Cedar Springs’ schedule.
A trip to Rochester Hills Stoney Creek was canceled, as well as Wednesday’s first Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold meet. The Red Hawks will be one of the favorites to win their conference and were looking forward to showcase their skills.
“It was disappointing because we felt prepared going in, but with more preparation we will be just fine,” Shadley said.
Added Wright: “We were really excited for Stoney Creek because it’s one that we look forward to and we were really hyped for our first conference meet. We will take that time to practice and perfect everything we need to do to come back stronger for the next competition.”
The aspirations are clear, and the initiative plentiful.
“The goal every year is to get better and better for the state meet, and then to do what we can to be at the state meet,” Hradsky said.
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Cedar Springs competes during a meet on its home mat. (Middle) This season’s Red Hawks competitive cheer team. (Photos courtesy of the Cedar Springs competitive cheer program.)
MOUNT PLEASANT – Allen Park competitive cheer coach Julie Goodwin calls Round 3 her team’s “money round.”
And did the Jaguars ever make it pay off Saturday at Central Michigan University’s McGuirk Arena.
Allen Park and Gibraltar Carlson had combined to win every MHSAA Division 2 Final championship over the last 16 seasons – and entered Round 3 this time separated by a mere 54 hundredths of a point.
That was just shy of the margin Carlson won by, over Allen Park, at last year’s championship meet. But the margin of victory this time would not be so close.
The Jaguars cashed in big with a seemingly flawless routine, their 322.40 the highest Round 3 score at the Finals in any division since 2012, and pulled away from the field to finish with 793.34 points and their fourth championship over the last five seasons.
“It felt so incredible. That was the round that we were waiting to perform all season,” Allen Park junior Abigail Obrycki said. “It felt perfect. It felt like everybody gave exactly what they were supposed to do, and it was just perfect.
“It’s what we love to do. We love stunting. We love perfecting it and getting everything exactly how it’s supposed to be.”
Allen Park led by only two tenths of a point after Round 1, with Carlson just behind, and was able to extend that lead only another 34 hundredths of a point in Round 2.
Carlson – which finished first in the Downriver League ahead of Allen Park before Allen Park won their Regional – also had to absorb a significant penalty that ended up sending the Marauders to fourth in the final standings.
“We had an amazing week of practice, we had an amazing season. It’s been a journey, it wasn’t an instant climb, and they did everything they needed,” said Allen Park coach Julie Goodwin, who was finishing her 20th season and 20th time bringing the team to the Finals. “They needed three clean rounds today, and they did it.”
Carleton Airport finished runner-up, its highest at a Finals since finishing Class B runner-up in 2003.
These last three weeks have seen the Jets certainly land among the state’s elite in just their second season under coach Emily Dusik. Airport won their District two weeks ago, just ahead of Carlson, and then finished behind Allen Park and Carlson at their Regional but with a season-high score that was six points higher than their previous best this season. The Jets also enjoyed their major surge despite moving into Division 2 after competing in Division 3 last season.
“I think (today) gave the girls a drive that they’ve never really experienced before. Being here today, it opened their eyes to their potential and really allowed them to believe in what they’re doing,” Dusik said. “We tell them all year just do your best, and we had a little bit of a tough time today and they still came out and did a great job. I’m just so proud of everything they’ve done.
“It’s kinda unbelievable right now. It’s just incredible. But it’s all the girls. I try to fill their buckets as much as possible and try to give them as much positivity to believe in themselves, and it’s really showing. They’re starting to believe that they’re capable of great things.”
Airport finished with a score of 779.92, with Dearborn Divine Child right behind at 779.84. Carlson was in that mix as well at 778.10, followed by Cedar Springs, Middleville Thornapple Kellogg, Plainwell and Muskegon Reeths-Puffer.
PHOTOS (Top) Allen Park competes during Saturday's Division 2 Finals at McGuirk Arena. (Middle) The Jaguars celebrate their fourth championship in five seasons. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)