GRAND RAPIDS – As the Pontiac Notre Dame Prep competitive cheer team exited the mat after their final round, several of the girls raised two fingers up and pointed toward their cheering section.
The Fighting Irish refused to be coined one-hit wonders.
A year after capturing the program’s first MHSAA title, Notre Dame Prep repeated in Saturday’s Division 3 Competitive Cheer Final at The DeltaPlex.
“Our theme this year was ‘more than one’,” Fighting Irish coach Beth Campbell said. “It’s been a steady climb for us the last few years and we’re so proud of our kids.”
Notre Dame Prep led from start to finish, cementing back-to-back championships with the Final’s high scores in all three rounds and a 773.68 total.
The Fighting Irish held off a challenge from Richmond, which tallied a score of 767.70 and placed among the top two for the fourth time in five years.
Armada (761.90) was third, while perennial contender Comstock Park (759) suffered a fall in Round 3 and slipped to fourth.
“We knew Richmond and Comstock Park wanted to win and bring it back to their schools, but we knew we had the talent and we stayed focused on us,” said Campbell, whose team went undefeated throughout the season in Division 3.
“Anytime you are the defending state champions there’s a target on your back, and the year before we were underdogs. I feel like defending a state championship was 25 times harder. Keeping it was a real challenge, but I think my girls decided a long time ago that they were going to defend it.”
It’s believed that the Fighting Irish achieved a school milestone as well with their second straight title.
“I’m pretty sure we’re the first sport in school history to win state titles back-to-back, so that’s an honor right there,” senior Alysa Gonzalez said. “And we also have 16 team tucks in Round 3 and only one other school has that and they are not in our division. It’s just remarkable.”
Senior Olivia Riley never imagined ending her competitive cheer career with a pair of MHSAA Finals crowns.
“I never dreamed coming into high school that I would be winning two state championships, but here I am,” she said. “There was definitely a lot of pressure on us, but we worked hard all year and we knew it would work out in the end.”
Notre Dame Prep was fueled all season by an inner drive to succeed, but also stayed focused on the task at hand.
“This team has been consistent all year long,” Campbell said. “We don’t always have our perfect rounds, but we deliver in every single round. We stayed the course, and it was closer than we would’ve liked, but our team was so focused on what their goal was. They kept taking it one round at a time and didn’t get ahead of themselves.”
The Fighting Irish scored 233.50 in Round 1 to gain the early momentum. They carried it over into the final two rounds with scores of 226.48 and 313.70, respectively.
“We know every year if you win Round 1, you win a state championship, and so we knew we had to get our lead in Round 1,” Riley said.
Richmond was within two points of Notre Dame Prep in each round, but was unable to gain any ground.
Still, Blue Devils coach Kelli Matthes was thrilled with the effort by her team.
“We’re happy,” she said. “We wanted to come in today and have our best three rounds of the year. The kids have worked hard to clean up all the bits and pieces the last two weeks in Districts and Regionals.
“Are some of the kids disappointed? Well sure, everybody wants to win, but they’re going home with a trophy and a medal around their neck.”
Richmond finished outside of the top two a year ago with an inexperienced team, and this year’s squad also was youthful with only three seniors.
Its roster consisted of 12 sophomores and seven freshmen.
“Last year our team was extremely young and new, and this year we still had 19 of our 24 kids who were underclassmen,” Matthes said. “Our senior leadership has been fabulous, and our goal all year was to keep on plugging and that’s what we did.”
MHSAA.com – March 7, 2015