By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Pontiac Notre Dame Prep competitive cheer coach Beth Campbell was being honest when she stated that she believed the program could possibly be in rebuilding mode this season.
As Saturday night came to a close, that prediction couldn’t have ended up farther from the truth.
Despite heavy graduation losses and a bevy of underclassmen, the Fighting Irish kept their MHSAA Finals streak intact. Top-ranked Notre Dame Prep won its fifth consecutive Division 3 championship at the DeltaPlex with a three-round total of 776.48.
The Irish slipped past runner-up Richmond, which tallied a 771.50 score.
“I had 10 freshmen and five sophomores, two who had never been on the mat, and graduated seven kids that were outstanding in our program,” Campbell said. “I thought at the beginning of the season it was going to be a rebuilding year.”
Instead of rebuilding, the Fighting Irish simply reloaded. They went unscathed throughout the season, failing to lose a competition.
“I never would have dreamed it, to be honest,” Campbell said. “I thought we were going to have a lot of work ahead of us, but these kids, who were my seniors, know how to lead and they taught the kids our culture from day one. It was a pretty smooth season.”
The success was sparked by the leadership of the team’s four seniors: McKenna Dooley, Tessa Woryk, Rachel Michel and Taylor Beaver.
“These seniors never doubted it, and they told me on day one that this was how it was going to end,” Campbell said. “And they kept their word.”
The quartet refused to be denied in their pursuit of another Finals crown in their final high school season. They were committed to helping mentor the younger girls.
“To be responsible for this group of girls and teaching them our team mentality, it feels amazing,” Woryk said.
Added Michel: “We lost a very talented group of seniors from last year and only had four seniors with 10 freshmen coming on the team, but they were amazing and they caught onto the team culture right away. They worked super hard, and this ended up as one of the best teams we’ve ever had, in my opinion.”
Dooley said there was a sense of pride in keeping the tradition of the program going.
“Thinking about the girls that started it, it’s amazing that we get to continue the legacy they set for us,” she said. “I’m so grateful to be a part of it, and Rounds 1 and 2 were the best we’ve done all season. We peaked at state, which is what we planned on.”
The Fighting Irish boasted high scores in both of the first two rounds to build a comfortable advantage over Richmond.
And although their third round wasn’t their best, it proved to be enough to solidify the victory.
“Round 3 has been our power round, and we have not lost that round by any less than five points this year,” Campbell said. “You could see a little inexperience in that round today with more bobbles than we normally do, but they are fighters and they were able to keep it in the air and do enough to give us that fifth state championship.”
Richmond, ranked No. 2, placed runner-up to Notre Dame Prep for the fourth straight year. The Blue Devils previously won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
“We are disappointed because you always want to win, but after what happened last year we had a lot to deal with,” Richmond coach Kelli Matthes said. “We had kids quit and we had kids who didn’t come back. The fact that they came out and won the third round and hit better than they have all year long, they were able to put that ghost away.”
Richmond, which had only one senior, finished with a flurry and produced the top score (318.0) in Round 3.
“I’m extremely proud of them, and they left it all on the mat and it showed,” Matthes said. “And the bottom line is, we might have the silver trophy, but they won the third round and that’s what they will take with them.”
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PHOTOS: (Top) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep performs during Saturday's Division 3 Final. (Middle) Richmond cheerleaders elevate in unison during a routine.