The Houghton and Ishpeming Westwood girls golf teams continued their Upper Peninsula Finals dominance to highlight finishes at the MHSAA championship tournaments Thursday and Friday.
The Gremlins shot a 365 to repeat as Division 1 champions, at Wawonowin Country Club in Champion. Westwood, meanwhile, repeated as Division 2 champion and earned its fourth-straight MHSAA title – the Patriots also won Division 1 in 2010 and Division 2 in 2009 – by shooting a 411 at Newberry Country Club.
All five Houghton players shot 91-94, led by sophomores Megan Kelly and Kenna Farrey and senior Hannah Hill all with 91s. Marquette junior Avery Rochester won the Division 1 individual title with an 82, three strokes better than Calumet senior Zoe Woodward.
Megan Manninen and Berkley LaFreniere shot 87 and 90, respectively, to take the top two individual spots and lead Westwood to its team championship. The Patriots finished 40 strokes better than runner-up Bark River-Harris.
At the Division 3 Girls Final at Terrace Bluff, Cedarville won its first championship since 2004 by shooting a 431, 23 strokes better than runner-up Painesdale-Jeffers. Junior Cayla Massey shot a 95 to finish second individually and led Cedarville, while Crystal Falls Forest Park’s Alexis Gussert shot a 90 to win the individual championship.
The Painesdale-Jeffers boys won their first MHSAA championship in that Division 3 Final, at Highland Golf Course, thanks to 79s by senior Matt Zerbst and sophomore Tyler Bailey. Those scores tied for third individually, behind first-place freshman Joe Duncan of Cedarville’s 76 and Forest Park senior Dustin Dishaw’s 77.
The St. Ignace boys won their first MHSAA championship as well, at Division 2, led by individual medalist Patrick Sweeney. He shot a 71 after finishing sixth individually last season.
The Houghton boys claimed their first MHSAA title since 2000 by beating Gladstone at the Division 1 Final on a fifth-scorer tie-breaker. Both teams shot 329, but Houghton’s fifth player shot a 90, one stroke better than the fifth for Gladstone.
Manistique senior Mike Nagy – who has signed to play next season at the University of Tennessee – shot a 70 to win his third MHSAA individual championship. He finished five strokes better than Gladstone senior Drew Scheenemun, while Houghton freshman Brendan Longhini and Kingsford junior Nick Baldwin tied for third with 77s.
ADRIAN – Avery Sluss picked up a golf club for the first time her freshmen year at Adrian Lenawee Christian. Now she’s an all-state golfer.
Sluss started playing basketball because it was a way for her and her older brother, Gavin, to connect. She’s now the leading scorer on the Cougars basketball team a year after receiving all-state recognition.
Everything she touches seems to turn to gold. She will return to the soccer field in the spring already with her college plans in place. She signed recently to play goalkeeper at Indiana Wesleyan University.
“I’ve learned so much from sports,” Avery said. “It teaches me a lot about life.”
Her coaches call her a self-motivated athlete, quiet leader and someone dedicated to her faith, her teammates, and academics. She is a 4.0 student and has played four years of varsity golf, basketball, and soccer. She’s earned all-state recognition in all three sports.
“She is very self-motivated,” said first-year Lenawee Christian girls basketball coach Emilie Beach. “She doesn’t miss workouts or practices. She pushes herself hard. She forces others to rise (around her).”
Sluss is in her fourth season on the Lenawee Christian varsity basketball team. This year her role changed from mostly a defensive specialist to scorer.
Beach said Avery hasn’t changed her positive attitude with the changes in her role on the team. She has a high basketball IQ, Beach said, which helps her on the court.
“It can be tough and frustrating, but she comes in with a great attitude each day and leads her teammates,” Beach said. “She is a quiet leader who leads by example. She is hardest on herself, and that’s where a lot of her motivation comes from.”
The Cougars have had great success on the basketball floor the last several years, and Sluss has been part of it. She’s played alongside all-staters and played at the Breslin Center. She started and played 20 minutes in last year’s Semifinal loss to Plymouth Christian Academy.
This season she’s averaging 14.5 points a game, with 16 3-pointers, and has scored at least 17 points four times.
“It’s very different, but I like the role I’m in now,” she said. “Now, it’s like you have to score. I’ve accepted it. I’m just trying my best to fulfill that role for my teammates.”
Sluss sat out the fall travel soccer season while she was recovering from a slight back injury. But she was able to hit the golf course. She shot a two-day total of 186 at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final, helping the Cougars finish second as a team. A year earlier Sluss shot an 89 and 87 and helped the Cougars finish fourth overall.
Not bad for someone who didn’t pick up a golf club until just a few years ago.
“Golf was new to me my freshman year,” she said. “Some of my friends said I should try it, so I did. I went to the range maybe one or two times before I started to play. I’ve loved it.”
As far as sports goes, soccer was her first love. She started playing at the age of 4 when a neighborhood dad gathered a few girls together and formed a team.
“We started playing in the back yard,” she said. “I’ve been playing soccer ever since. My first travel team was when I was 7.”
Sluss first started thinking about playing college soccer when she was in kindergarten.
“I’ve always wanted to play soccer in college,” she said. “I’ve dreamed about that. I’ve spent so much time on the sport that it would be silly not to. I want it to pay off with college.”
She used to play multiple positions but turned to goalkeeper at the age of 12.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “There are a lot of little things. The mental part of being a goalkeeper is important.”
After being named to the coaches association all-state third team last year, Sluss is primed for a big season this spring, especially with her college choice behind her.
“It is a strong Christian college, which was important to me,” she said. “It’s a lot like Lenawee Christian. Everyone on the soccer team was great when I met them, and the girls are so nice.”
Sluss has become adept at mixing sports with academics and life.
“Balance is a big issue,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, especially doing two at a time.
“My whole family, my parents (David and Kristen), they always push me to be the best I can be. I owe them a lot. Even my little sister (Addie) pushes me to do my best.”
Avery’s family moved from Toledo to the Adrian area several years ago, and the two perfectly complement to each other.
“Lenawee Christian has been a great fit for me,” she said. “All of the people are awesome, and I have grown in my faith here.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Avery Sluss gathers up the ball while playing keeper for Lenawee Christian’s soccer team. (Middle) Sluss puts up a shot during last season’s Division 4 Semifinal at Breslin Center. (Below) Sluss plants a chip on the green. (Photos courtesy of the Lenawee Christian athletic department.)