By Tom Kendra
MOUNT PLEASANT – Hart’s “Special 7” competitive cheerleaders finished fourth in the entire state on Thursday.
The Pirates, who had the smallest roster in the field at Thursday’s Division 4 Competitive Cheer state finals at Central Michigan University’s McGuirk Arena, overcame a shaky start in the first round to finish fourth – continuing an amazing sports renaissance at the Oceana County school.
“We have a special seven girls,” explained 12th-year Hart coach Jennifer Hlady. “We don’t have anyone sitting out. Everyone takes the mat for us and everyone always has to be ready to go.”
Hart struggled to fifth place after the opening round, but moved up to third with a strong second round, before settling back one spot in fourth.
Hudson, which has 19 girls on its roster compared to Hart’s seven, piled up 771.04 points and won its fourth-straight Division 4 title and has now finished either first or second in the state seven years in a row.
Michigan Center took second with 745.20 points, followed by Adrian Madison (741.16) and then Hart (739.56).
Mason County Central, the only other area school to qualify for the state finals in any of the four divisions, placed eighth with 713.72 points. The Spartans made the state finals for the second consecutive year.
Hart, which won the West Michigan Conference and all 14 of its previous competitions this winter, fell short of its season-best score of 752.84.
“Round 1 was our weakest today and that put us behind a little bit,” explained Hart senior Jenna Hanks, one of three seniors on the Pirates’ roster. “But we did our best and pushed through.”
Other seniors for the Pirates are Avery Ramseyer and Lillian Hallack, who are joined by juniors Jasmine Villanueva and Athena Thocher and sophomores LexieBeth Nienhuis and Nora Chickering.
Nienhuis earned second team all-regional honors last winter and Villanueva was honorable mention all-region.
Hart was a bit disappointed Thursday as it was shooting for its first-ever top two finish at state, but certainly finished better than a year ago, when the Pirates were up in Division 3 and failed to make the eight-team state finals.
“That was extremely hard,” said Hlady, who is assisted by Ashleigh Andritsis and Markaya McBean. “We don’t like to lose and we strive for perfection. Not making it to state last year left a sour taste in our mouths and we wanted to come back strong.”
Mason County Central, which is led by 14th-year coach Cheri Stibitz and assistant coach Elizabeth Adams, had seven seniors on its 12-girl roster this winter, led by returning all-stater Geralyn Soberalski.
Junior Emily Adams made the second team and junior Marissa Quillan was honorable mention.
Having two West Michigan Conference teams out of eight teams at the Division 4 finals, was certainly a point of pride for the conference.
“A lot of the time, the West Michigan area is overlooked, so it says a lot that we were both here at state,” Ramseyer said.
Hudson is a small community in southeast Michigan with less than 3,000 residents that is perhaps best known for its 72-game winning streak in football from 1968 to 1975. On Thursday, the Tigers’ cheer team produced the highest score in all three rounds, never allowing the other seven teams in the field to gain momentum in an upset bid.
Hudson’s four consecutive cheer state titles is still two shy of Gibraltar Carlson, which holds the cheer state record with six consecutive titles from 2011 to 2016. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (2014 to 2018) and Rochester (1999 to 2003) both won five straight championships.