HARRIS TOWNSHIP — The Menominee girls had been the frontrunners in the Great Northern Conference throughout this golf season.
They came in first again Thursday, retaining their Upper Peninsula Division 1 title with 373 strokes at Sage Run Golf Course, followed by Ishpeming Westwood with 424 and Marquette with 436.
“We have five real good athletes,” said Menominee coach Tony Hofer, who also coached the Maroons to the 2019 championship before last season was canceled due to COVID-19. “They had to figure out the short game at first. Although when you play every day for a month, you get better. The girls were a little worried going into this course, but they made the course very playable for the kids. This is a very nice course.”
Menominee senior Josie Hofer was medalist at 81, including 39 on the back nine on a partly sunny and warm day.
“I started off with an eight and six on the front nine,” said Hofer, who will be playing at Wisconsin-Oshkosh next season. “I just needed to get the ball on the green. My chipping hadn’t been that good, although it went pretty well today. My driver was a little off, but it’s different every day. That was my best nine-hole score in an 18-hole tournament.
“I’ll probably do some weight training and work on my game this summer. I really need to work on my short game.”
Hofer’s best score in a nine-hole tourney (38) took place early this season at Riverside Country Club in Menominee.
Negaunee sophomore Rachel Niskanen was runner-up at 84, including 38 on the back nine.
“I think my short game was probably a little better on the back nine,” said Niskanen, who birdied on No. 15 and 16. “The front nine may have been a little more challenging, although we weren’t warmed up yet. Once I started to par some holes, I became more confident. There were a lot of hills out there, and I got a little tired going up the hills. It was a nice course, though. I’m happy with my score. I’ve been working on my game a lot. Everything is going okay, but there’s room for improvement all the way around.”
Niskanen, the two-time reigning Marquette County Junior Golf Association champion, was followed by Menominee junior Maddy Derusha with an 86 and senior Jenna Nolde at 97.
“I just played it safe everywhere,” said Derusha. “I had to stay focused and not worry about other scores. My short game went real well, and my driver was pretty good, too.
“I think this is even a little better than winning two years ago. I’m happy for the seniors. It was nice to send them off with a U.P. Championship.”
Nolde, also a Wisconsin-Oshkosh tennis recruit, said her game wasn’t quite as good as usual, but she was happy to place fourth and go out on a U.P. championship team.
“I had a couple rough holes,” she added. “It was a tough course. The fairways were long. Although, my drives and putting were pretty good. It feels really good to win as a team and end my career as U.P. champions.”
Marquette’s Morgan Rhodes and Houghton’s Keegan Leonard shared fifth place at 98.
PHOTOS: (Top) Menominee’s Josie Hofer lines up a putt during Thursday’s UPD1 Final. (Middle) Rachel Niskanen finds her line on the green. (Photos by Justin St. Ours.)
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.)