By: Daniel Stickradt
GIRLS COMPETITIVE CHEER: Top of the pyramid: Defending Rochester looks to reload, contend for another state title
BY DAN STICKRADT
ROCHESTER HILLS – There’s no secret that Rochester is perhaps the state of Michigan’s premier, signature competitive cheer program.
Few programs have qualified for the state finals in Class A or Division 1 in 32 of the previous 35 seasons like the Falcons. The proof is in the numbers.
“I remember in my first year, we really didn't take our team to any competitions. We just worked out and went and watched competitions,” recalled Susan Wood, Rochester’s head coach since 1981-82. “The next year we qualified tor the MCCA state finals for the first time and there were 23 teams there. We finished 23rd.”
A lot has changed for Wood and the Falcons. Now in her 36th season, Rochester has failed to qualify for the MCCA or MHSAA state finals three times — 1982, 2011 and 2014.
In the MHSAA State Tournament, which began in 1994, the Falcons have qualified in 21 of 23 seasons. Rochester has captured 12 state titles, finished as the state runner-up four times, claimed third place twice and finished fourth, fifth and seventh one time apiece.
In the MCCA Tournament, which the Falcons competed in from 1983 through 1997 — there were four seasons from 1994-97 where Rochester competed in both state tournaments — the Falcons earned one state title (its very first state crown in 1989), finished as the state runner-up three times, claimed third once, fourth one time, fifth twice, ninth once and 23rd one time.
Can you do the math? It adds up to consistency.
The banners litter the walls inside Rochester’s gymnasium.
“I remember in 1984 we finished in the top 10 at the MCCA state finals for the first time and I realized how far we had come in a couple of years,” said Wood. “I also started to realize how much work it would take for us to join the top teams in the state every year.”
From 1983 through 2010, Rochester qualified for the state finals 28 straight seasons, ending the streak in 2011 with a fifth place showing at the regional.
Overall, Rochester has captured legions of league, district, regional, and weekend invitational championships.
Rochester returned to the top of the pyramid in 2016, capturing the Division 1 state title at the DeltaPlex in Grand Rapids with 792.40 points, just ahead of longtime nemesis Grandville (790.66 points).
Wood is cautiously optimistic for the 2016-17 campaign. Rochester has graduated a combined 28 athletes the past two seasons and returns no more than five starters from each of the three rounds of competition.
“I expect that our score won't be anywhere near where they were at the beginning of last season. Last year we had a large senior class with a lot of experience.”
So far this season, Rochester finished third at the MCAA East Side Invitational (760.90 score) and won the first OAA Red Division Jamboree (779.46 score) in its second outing of the young campaign, showcasing a quantum leap of improvement in one week of time in December.
The Falcons’ junior-varsity team finished undefeated last winter and won many of its competitions via landslide. Many of those athletes are in their first season of competition.
“We don't have a lot of varsity experience, so it’s hard to say how much we’ll improve over the course of the season,” said Wood. “I think we have some very good athletes, but it’s a different level of pressure and expectations when you jump from JV to varsity — in any sport really. The demands are so much greater and the competition level is so much greater. I think we’ll be very competitive, but we are not the favorites right now.”
There’s a pool of around 20 schools in Class A which will fight for the eight state qualifying spots when the state tournament begins in mid-February. The top six teams in each district qualify for the regional round, while the top four teams from each regional advance to the state finals.
Rochester, Grandville, Sterling Heights Stevenson, East Kentwood, Lake Orion, Southgate Anderson, Hudsonville, Troy Athens, Rochester Stoney Creek, Rochester Adams, Macomb Dakota, Grand Blanc, Livonia Stevenson, Hartland, Brighton, Waterford Mott, Holland West Ottawa, Jenison and Clarkston appear to be the elite group in Class A this season.
“We hope to be there in the end,” said Wood. “It’s a lot tougher nowadays then it was say 10, 15 years ago. If you had a flaw, you could hide it. Not anymore. If you don't perform well at the regional, another team will come in and take your spot.”
Rochester’s normal spot is in the state’s top 10 — a destination the Falcons have landed in 30 previous seasons overall.
It’s all in the numbers as the state’s most dominant large-school program.
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