Bark River-Harris Ends MHSAA Title Wait
By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com
May 29, 2014
ESCANABA — After nearly 40 years of trying, Bark River-Harris finally has an Upper Peninsula girls golf championship to call its own.
The Broncos captured their first Division 3 title on a sunny and mild Thursday with 415 strokes. They were followed by Crystal Fall Forest Park with 441 and Ontonagon at 464.
“I thought this was going to be very tight,” said BR-H coach Scott Farnsworth. “Forest Park has four seniors and a very strong program. I honestly thought it would be within a few strokes.”
BR-H senior Savana Stenberg also was crowned individual champion for the first time, edging DeTour freshman Madison Wilkie on a tie-breaker.
Nerves were evident as both girls needed five strokes to complete the playoff hole, with each missing a three-foot putt before finding the bottom of the cup.
During the playoff, Wilkie inadvertently picked up the ball while it was lying on the fringe. After the hole was done, Stenberg was declared the winner following a brief meeting of the coaches involved and course officials.
“Yes, I did touch it,” Wilkie acknowledged. “I just kind of forgot myself at the moment.”
The girls set themselves up with strong tee shots that landed about halfway down and on the left side of the fairway, followed by solid approach shots.
“I think we should have played another hole,” Stenberg said. “On the course, I wasn’t nervous. But the playoff hole was nerve-wracking. I tried to think I was by myself. I usually tell myself I have to do well. But it seemed like I couldn’t play at all today. My putting was way off.
“It’s just a relief to get this meet in and come out on top. This is also kind of sad because it’s my last high school meet, although I’ll be playing in a junior league this summer.”
Both girls recorded a 91 through the 18 regulation holes, setting the stage for the playoff.
“I didn’t think I’d do very good because I four-putted the first hole,“ Wilkie said. “I just had to forget about it. We still had 17 more holes. I did well on the par-5s. My drives were pretty good, but my approach shots worked the best. This was definitely a learning experience.”
BR-H sophomore Hannah Starnes placed third with 94, followed by Mid Peninsula junior Hunter Branstrom at 95 and Cedarville sophomore Anna Eberts at 97.
“I was real nervous on the front nine, but played my game on the back nine,” Starnes said. “I calmed down once we got to the back nine. I didn’t overthink anything and established a rhythm.”
The Broncos were runners-up and Stenberg placed third at the 2013 Final at Highland Golf Club in nearby Hyde.
“Winning this meet was our goal all year,” Farnsworth said. “With the talent we had, I thought we could get there. These girls are hard workers. They deserve this because they’ve put the time and effort into it.”
Forest Park was led by Anne Taylor with 107 strokes, followed by Toni Santi at 109.
“All the girls played well,” Forest Park coach Harold Payne said. “We played for only three weeks this year because of the (unseasonably cold) weather.
“This is a great group of girls. We’re senior-dominated, although our sophomore had the lowest score. Among our six golfers, we’re losing four good seniors. Each year you’re dealt a new hand, which makes it exciting. The challenge is keeping kids interested and hopefully pick up a few more.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Savanna Stenberg of Bark River-Harris chips out of a hazard and onto the No. 10 green Thursday during the Upper Peninsula Division 3 Final at Escanaba Country Club. (Middle) Hunter Branstrom of Rock Mid Peninsula sends a shot from the No. 1 fairway. (Photos by Keith Shelton.)
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.
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.)