GRAND RAPIDS – Grand Ledge faced a possibility Friday at Kenowa Hills High School that none of its gymnasts had known before.
No gymnast on the team had experienced a high school loss. But the Comets were coming off a frustrating performance on their best apparatus, vault, and needed a strong finish to push its MHSAA team championship streak to five.
Senior Christine Wilson knew she’d do her share. But that would be the easy part.
“I’ve been doing the routines for so long now, I knew I had it. But the hard part was getting the girls to believe that they could do it. That was my job, just to get them going again,” the Comets’ lone senior said. “Because I know, after vault, and you’re behind, it’s really hard to pull yourself together when you’re under that much stress.
“Going for five, who does that?”
Grand Ledge went for it on the uneven parallel bars – and got it all. The Comets posted the meet’s top score on that apparatus – 37.325 – to finish with a score of 149.400 and edge Canton by 0.825 points to claim their fifth MHSAA championship. Kenowa Hills/Grandville finished third with 145.10.
“I can’t even describe how proud I am of them,” Wilson said of her teammates. “Every day it’s the same thing, same thing, same thing. It’s this moment. If you don’t put it together, you don’t got it.
“I basically told them we’re so much better than what we just did, and we’ve got to show everyone we can do it. You’ve got to start believing in yourself. Everyone else out here believes in you, but if you don’t believe in yourself, it’s not going to happen.”
The fifth-straight title ties a record held by Ludington (1975-79, although Ludington was co-champion in 1979). It’s fair to believe that the Comets’ 75-event winning streak – counting both duals and invitationals – also is the longest in MHSAA gymnastics history. The last time Grand Ledge took the mat and didn’t finish first was at the 2007 MHSAA Final, when the Comets finished runner-up.
Wilson is the reigning Division 2 individual champion and favored today to win Division 1. Her all-around score of 38.650 on Friday was the Team Final’s highest. Three others posted scores above 36 – juniors Sara Peltier (36.025) and Lauren Clark (36.575) and sophomore Presley Allison (36.90) – and freshman Hailey French turned in a strong 34.925. The score of 149.400 was good for fourth in MHSAA Finals history and the team’s third-best during this five-season run.
It’s not like Grand Ledge totally failed on the vault. Its score of 37.050 was the second-best on that apparatus at the meet. But Canton had scored two tenths of a point more – a healthy amount in what was shaping up to be a close race at the top.
Wilson pulled her teammates into the hallway. She told them to believe. Grand Ledge coach Duane Haring followed with a little bit more of a fiery speech – one among many Wilson said she’ll always remember.
“I was sitting with the parents, and I told them I was really angry because … I think we’re the best vault team in the state. And they didn’t do it,” Haring said. “I just had to go for a walk because I can’t talk to them right now. I started to walk away, and I thought, ‘Oh yes I can.’ … Trust me; they were wide awake for bars. They understood.
“I knew they could do it. All year I’ve waited for them to do bars like that.”
Wilson scored a 9.8 on bars. But the key was Peltier – which scored a 9.7 and landed her dismount for just the second time in competition this season (and Wilson called the first time she’d landed it “lucky”).
Had Peltier missed her landing, it would’ve cost her seven tenths of a point. Add in another error, and that might’ve been enough to lose the lead.
“I felt pressured at first. But when all the girls started pulling it together and landing their dismounts, I didn’t feel as pressured,” Peltier said. “I knew we needed to do as well as we could, but I didn’t realize that it would make that big of an impact on whether we won or not.”
Canton also finished runner-up last season. But coach John Cunningham – who has coached the sport at the high school level since 1968 and at Canton since 1979 – called this team one of his most surprising.
The Chiefs graduated six strong gymnasts after last season, including two school record holders. But this team broke the school's 2004 scoring record with a 149.10. Senior Ayana Lewis broke two event and the all-around records, including two that had stood since 1995.
“They were shockingly good. They didn’t get (just) a little bit better,” Cunningham said. “Everybody has just improved so much. When you have routines when the fifth score is a 9.0 and you can throw it out, and we’ve done that a bunch, it just shocks me.”
Freshman Joselyn Moraw had an all-around 37.650 to lead Canton on Friday. Sophomore Melissa Green had a 36.90 and Lewis had a 36.350. She’ll compete today in Division 1 – after finishing runner-up in Division 2 last season – but is one of just two seniors.
“It’s frustrating, yes. But you never know what could happen next year,” Lewis said. “It might be our year. Every year we step up one more. We get better one year after the next. I have really good hopes for next year.”
Senior Taylor Tepper scored an all-around 38.225 for Kenowa Hills/Grandville. Senior Alyssa Bresso had a 38.150 for fifth-place Farmington, and senior Chloe Presley had a 38.250 for sixth-place Highland-Milford.
The addition of two games to basketball regular-season schedules and a new series of wrestling weight classes are likely the most noticeable Winter 2022-23 changes as an estimated 65,000 athletes statewide take part in 13 sports for which the Michigan High School Athletic Association sponsors postseason tournaments.
Girls gymnastics and boys ice hockey teams were able to begin practice Oct. 31, with the rest of those sports beginning in November – including also girls and boys basketball, girls and boys bowling, girls competitive cheer, girls and boys skiing, Upper Peninsula girls and boys and Lower Peninsula boys swimming & diving, and girls and boys wrestling.
A variety of changes are in effect for winter sports this season, including a several that will be noteworthy and noticeable to teams and spectators alike.
Basketball remains the most-participated winter sport for MHSAA member schools with 33,000 athletes taking part last season, and for the first time, basketball teams may play up to 22 regular-season games. This increase from the previous 20-game schedule allows more games for teams at every high school level – varsity, junior varsity and freshman.
Another significant change has been made in wrestling, as the majority of boys wrestling weight classes have been adjusted for this season in anticipation of a national change coming in 2023-24. The updated boys weight classes are 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 144, 150, 157, 165, 175, 190, 215 and 285 pounds. Only 215 and 285 remain from the previous lineup. There is also one change to girls weight classes, with the 255 class replaced by 235 to also align with national high school standards.
A series of notable changes will affect how competition takes place at the MHSAA Tournament levels. In hockey, in addition to a new classification process that spread cooperative and single-school programs evenly throughout the three playoff divisions, the MHSAA Tournament will employ two changes. The Michigan Power Ratings (MPR) will be used to seed the entire Regional round, not just the top two teams, and prior to the start of Semifinals, a seeding committee will reseed the remaining four teams in each division with the top seed in each then facing the No. 4 seed, and the No. 2 seed facing No. 3.
Bowling also will see an MHSAA Tournament change, as the Team Regional format will mirror the long-standing Team Final with teams playing eight Baker games and two regular games at both levels. And as also applied during the fall girls season, there is a new qualification process for divers seeking to advance to Lower Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals. In each of the three divisions, each Regional will be guaranteed 10 qualifiers for the Finals, with six more “floating” qualifier entries to be distributed to the Regionals that have one of the previous year’s top six returning Finals divers in their fields. If a team changes division from the previous season, any floating top-six spots are added to the six already allowed in the school’s new division.
A gymnastics rules change provides an opportunity for additional scoring during the floor exercise. A dance passage requirement was added in place of the former dance series requirement to encourage creativity and a more artistic use of dance. The dance passage requires gymnasts to include two Group 1 elements – one a leap with legs in cross or side split position, the other a superior element.
In competitive cheer, the penalty for going over the time limit in each round was adjusted to one penalty point for every second over the time limit, not to exceed 15 points. The new time limit rule is more lenient than the past penalty, which subtracted points based on ranges of time over the limit.
The 2022-23 Winter campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Swimming & Diving Finals on Feb. 18 and wraps up with the Boys Basketball Finals on March 25. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:
Districts – March 6, 8, 10
Regionals – March 13, 15
Quarterfinals – March 21
Semifinals – March 23-24
Finals – March 25
Districts – Feb. 27, March 1, 3
Regionals – March 7, 9
Quarterfinals – March 14
Semifinals – March 16-17
Finals – March 18
Regionals – Feb. 24-25
Finals – March 3-4
District – Feb. 17-18
Regionals – Feb. 25
Finals – March 2-3
Regionals – March 4
Finals – March 10-11
Regionals – Feb. 20-March 1
Quarterfinals – March 4
Semifinals – March 9-10
Finals – March 11
Regionals – Feb. 13-17
Finals – Feb. 27
Swimming & Diving
Upper Peninsula Girls/Boys Finals – Feb. 18
Lower Peninsula Boys Diving Regionals – March 2
Lower Peninsula Boys Finals – March 10-11
Wrestling – Team
Districts – Feb. 8-9
Regionals – Feb. 15
Finals – Feb. 24-25
Wrestling – Individual
Districts – Feb. 11
Regionals – Feb. 18
Finals – March 3-4
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.