4 Years of Work Paying Off as Senior-Led Linden Heads to Finals

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

October 13, 2021

Ask any member of the Linden girls golf team if she thought three years ago that the current level of success the team is enjoying was possible, and they quickly say no.

It’s tough to blame them. In 2018, the varsity team was made up of five freshmen and two sophomores, and the Eagles were struggling to be competitive, shooting a 467 in the Regional and coming in 10th out of 10 teams.

But that didn’t stop them from buying all the way in, and now the Eagles – led by those five freshmen who are now seniors – are headed to the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals with all of their season goals already accomplished.

“I would tell them then, ‘Three years from now, if you keep working, maybe you might have a chance to do something,’” Linden coach Jon Hamilton said. “I was talking to their parents about this, but how many kids will keep going when you tell them that if they work for something for three years, that maybe you’ll accomplish something? They did.”

Linden placed third in this year’s Region 10 tournament, shooting a 364 to qualify for the Finals, which will be played Friday and Saturday at Bedford Valley in Battle Creek. All four scorers for the Eagles – Ella LaMothe, Cate Draper, Kaitlyn Straub and Emma Lurvey – are seniors, as is Brooke Goll, who was the No. 5 on that day. All five were on the team in 2018.

“During freshman year, I wouldn’t have seen myself going to states,” LaMothe said. “I would have seen us as a team being a lot better, and maybe having a chance in the Metro League and the Regionals. But it’s taken a lot of hard work – four years of practicing every day in the fall and on our own during the summer. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Linden golfIt’s the first time in the nine years Hamilton has been coaching that he will take a team to the Finals, and that wasn’t the only first for the program under his guidance this season.

The Eagles won the Flint Metro League title, edging rivals Fenton and Goodrich in the league tournament. They also earned a head-to-head victory against Fenton.

After that win, Hamilton dug into his archives to pull out the scores from the 2018 showdown between the programs. Back then, Fenton won 179-257. This year, Fenton was again at 179, but Linden shot a school-record 165.

“After beating Fenton it was like, ‘Wow, we’re actually at the top of our league at the moment,’” Straub said. “It just feels amazing that we were able, as a team, to get better. It wasn’t just one singular girl getting better, it was all five of us from the beginning of freshman year to now getting better.”

LaMothe, Straub and Draper – who missed most of her freshman year with an eye injury – had played some golf before they joined the varsity squad. Lurvey said she had been on a course “a few times” but that freshman year was truly when she started. Goll was basically brand new.

“I was friends with the girls, so I figured why not try?” she said. “I had some kids clubs that I used to use to just hit some whiffle balls in my hard. I had to get a new set and everything, because those were really small.”

Linden golfWhile they’ve made up the majority of the scoring for Linden during each of the past four years, they haven’t been completely alone. Hanna Baldwin and Cassie Most were the sophomores on that 2018 team, and Emma Most has contributed this season.

But the core has been the Class of 2022, which believed enough in itself, even when times were tough, to work toward bigger goals.

“I think that it’s super amazing,” Lurvey said. “We all didn’t really expect this at all, and this year we really just kicked it in. It’s a big accomplishment for all of us.”

The season isn’t over, of course, with the trip to Bedford Valley still to come. But while there are some admitted nerves heading into the biggest tournament of their careers, the Eagles are rolling into Battle Creek without any pressure as they’ve already accomplished all they had set out to do this season – and much more than anyone believed they were capable of just a few years ago.

“I’d say it’s probably icing on the cake,” Draper said. “We want to go in and compete, shoot a low score and place. But we’re going to go and have fun and work together as a team. I don’t really feel pressure to be the best in the state in our division. I think we’re just going in to have fun.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at paulcostanzo3@gmail.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Linden’s Ella LaMothe, Emma Lurvey and Kaitlyn Straub convene during the Flint Metro League Tournament, won by the Eagles. (Middle) The team’s five seniors, including also Cate Draper and Brooke Goll, have played varsity together since they were freshmen in 2018. (Below) The five seniors stand together during one last Regional, from left: Lurvey, Draper, Straub, Goll and LaMothe. (Photos courtesy of the Linden girls golf program.)

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.)