Schoolcraft Soccer Record Setter Brings Scoring Touch to Football Field

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

September 21, 2021

SCHOOLCRAFT — Soccer phenom Hannah Thompson has a flare for finding the net.

Southwest CorridorThis fall, the Schoolcraft High School senior is aiming even higher – in the most literal sense.

Thompson is the place kicker on the Eagles’ football team, and in the team’s three games so far, she has connected on 4 of 5 point-after attempts.

The first female varsity football player in school history, Thompson is no stranger to breaking records.

Her 87 goals in soccer last spring not only set an MHSAA girls record for most goals in a season, but also eclipsed the boys mark.

Kristi Vandeberghe, a standout at Mount Clemens, had set the previous girls record with 66 goals in 2001. The boys record of 76 goals was set in 2009 by Dearborn’s Soony Saad.

While both sports involve kicking, the vivacious senior said there are differences.

“In soccer, you’re supposed to keep your body over the ball,” she said. “In football, you’re supposed to lean back so the ball goes higher. That’s probably the biggest difference.

“In football, if you try to kick as hard as you can, like for power, the ball can go off to the side. In soccer, you want to kick it hard.”

Head football coach Nathan Ferency, who teaches health and physical education at the high school, had tried to convince Thompson to join the team since she expressed an interest as a freshman.

Hannah Thompson“I took my health class outside one spring morning and worked her out a little bit to see if she could kick — and she can actually kick,” he added with a grin.

Ferency immediately offered her a spot on the junior varsity team, but since she plays travel hockey in the fall, she opted to concentrate on that until this year.

Her high school soccer coach, Scott Thompson, also her dad, has no problem with her playing football, “and my (soccer) teammates think it’s cool and amazing,” the senior said. 

Nathan Ferency“They’re very supportive of me. My (travel) coaches do not like it whatsoever. They’re not a fan.”

Her dad sees some positives coming from football.

“As her coach, I have no issues with her playing football,” he said. “She’s working on driving through the ball and working on her leg muscles.

“Being in high school, I didn’t see any issues. As a place kicker, she has minimal opportunities for getting hurt.”

Ferency is aware that soccer is her main interest.

“We’re never going to put her into a kickoff situation where she has to hit somebody,” he said. “We feel comfortable in a PAT or field goal situation where she’s protected and unlikely to have contact.

“We want to preserve her senior year of soccer. That’s her love, and we want to make sure her goals are met.”

Thompson, who has committed to play soccer at Eastern Michigan University, said the hardest part of football is putting on the equipment, especially clipping down the shoulder pads.

“I wear youth large pads so they’re like the middle school pads, and it’s hard to get them clipped down,” she said, laughing while she demonstrated with her hands.

Pads also posed a bit of a problem for her debut.

“The first game, the girdle has the hip pads and the butt pads,” she said. “The pants have pads on the front and on the knees.

“I didn’t know you only had to wear one set. The first game I wore both and I had two pads everywhere. I didn’t know until the next game.”

Thompson said she is also developing her neck muscles.

“The helmet’s really heavy,” she said. “My neck’s getting strong.

“I have a big head, so I have to wear size large. But I got a new helmet that no one’s ever worn, so that’s good.”

Unlike the constant action in soccer, Thompson waits on the sidelines for the nod to play.

When she got the call during that first game, “I wasn’t really nervous because it happened super fast, so I didn’t really think about it,” she said. 

“It was exciting. I’m supposed to keep my head down when I kick it so I don’t see it, but I looked up and saw it going (over).”

She almost had a chance for a field goal that would have clinched a win for the Eagles.

“Week 1, we were down two points late in the game and getting close to field goal range,” Ferency said.

Schoolcraft soccer“Unfortunately we threw an interception before she had an opportunity, but I was prepared to let her kick the game-winner at that point.”

Thompson practices with the football team twice a week and with her travel team twice a week.

“She puts the work in,” Ferency said. “We go through her kicking game, and she conditions and runs with the team afterwards.

“She makes it a point to do everything she can to be a part of the team, and we accept her just like anybody else.”

Pressure in football and soccer is nothing compared to pressure she felt twice before in her young life.

When she was 5 years old, she was home with her newborn sister, Makenna, when their mother suffered a brain aneurysm.

“I called my dad, who was going out of town, and said mom’s not OK,” she said. 

Her father came home and her mom, Alyssa, was rushed to the hospital where she was in ICU for 17 days.

“It was remarkable for a 5-year-old,” her dad said. “We had just taught her how to use the phone. She was very heroic.”

Ten years later, it happened again, but this time her father was away on business and could not make it home.

Although she had just a driver’s permit, she loaded her mother and sister into the car and headed to the hospital.

“She remembered that I said earlier that it would be quicker for me to drive her mom to the hospital than wait for an ambulance to find us,” her dad said.

“When she talked with me, I could hear the confidence in her voice. She handled that better than most adults would and she took care of her sister.”

He said that confidence carries over to everything his daughter does, and he is savoring this time with her, especially during her senior year.

“It’s more fun to watch (her play) as a parent, but it’s also very satisfying to help your daughter (as a coach),” he said. “No one can ever take that time back.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at pamkzoo@aol.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Schoolcraft’s Hannah Thompson, left, lines up for an extra point this season. (Middle) Thompson and Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency. (Below) Thompson set the MHSAA single-season record for goals scored as a junior. (Football photo by Jamie Zinsmaster, head shots by Pam Shebest, and soccer photo by Walt Tokarchick.)

3-Sport Standout Sluss Gives Lenawee Christian All-State Boost for Every Season

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

January 11, 2023

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.

Southeast & BorderSluss 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.

Sluss puts up a shot during last season’s Division 4 Semifinal at Breslin Center.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.”

Sluss plants a chip on the green. 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.)