By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Every championship effort is not created equal.
The last two seasons, Lansing Catholic cruised to MHSAA Finals wins of 38 and 63 strokes, respectively. In 2010, the Cougars placed all five players among the top eight individuals, and last year they put four among the top 10.
But only three of those high placers remained this season. And that made Saturday’s third-straight Division 4 title special for additional reasons.
Lansing Catholic shot a two-day 658 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West to finish 64 strokes ahead of runner-up Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central. Those three players again placed among the top 10 – junior Jacqueline Setas second, senior Janie Fineis third and senior Dani Crilley tied for fourth. Lansing Catholic also got a score each from fourth player Mary Beth Maddalena and fifth player Lauren Burnett, both juniors.
“Last year, we had four players who could all shoot in the 70s. This year, we had to have a (number) four that really needed to work hard and count her score,” Setas said. “That made (winning) a lot more special.
“We just had to make sure they worked hard day in and day out. I just like to have fun at practice, (so) it was just easy.”
After dominating the last two regular seasons as well, Lansing Catholic loaded its schedule this fall with tough opponents from every division – and nearly dominated in the same fashion.
Only Division 1 champion Plymouth and 2011 Division 1 champion Grosse Pointe South finished ahead of the Cougars in events this season.
Lansing Catholic led by 37 strokes after Friday's round, but that didn't allow coach Mary Schafer any relief. Only at the end did it come pouring out.
“I’m not a crier, believe it or not, but something just took over,” a tearful Schafer said. “It’s very tough to be the target of everybody.
“I think I was pacing out there at 17. I think I wore a line into the mud. And then with the playoff, I thought it was one of the longest 18 holes I’ve ever had.”
Before the Cougars could claim that third MHSAA team trophy, their best had to play one more hole.
Setas and Muskegon Catholic Central senior Aya Johnson both shot 153 over the two rounds, Johnson with a 73 after firing an 80 on Friday. The two close friends and frequent summer opponents had to face off once more in a sudden-death tie-breaker.
Both hit their drives off West’s No. 1 into a group of trees on the right. But Johnson’s shot found a friendlier tree, and she ended up with a clean approach that she finished for par. Setas ended with a bogey and finished second.
“I was really nervous because I had a playoff hole sophomore year too, and I totally blew it,” said Johnson, who fell in a playoff to Caro’s Bailey Cockerill at the 2010 Final. “I hit my tee shot right and I was thinking, ‘Oh no, now I have to punch out.’ But I guess I hit a tree and it ended up in the middle of the fairway, so that was kinda good.
"I was excited because I had a tough day (Friday) and I needed to come back, and I did.”
Frankenmuth senior Kaitlyn Watkins, first individually after Friday’s round, finished tied with Crilley for fourth. Hackett junior Abby Jasiak shot a 180 to miss the top 10 by four strokes, and senior Abby Radomsky missed by six. But all five of the Fighting Irish shot 198 or lower for the tournament, and that balance allowed them to edge third-place Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian by three strokes.
All three top finishers graduate top players and significant chunks of their line-ups. But Setas didn’t take more than a few minutes to start thinking ahead to 2013.
“Three straight, it’s great, but I want to win one more if possible,” Setas said. “It’ll be hard because we’ll have a ton of new people from the junior varsity. But we’ll overcome it, hopefully.”
Also of note, Imlay City's Hannah Campbell scored a hole-in-one on No. 7. An individual qualifier, she finished the tournament with a two-day 216.
PHOTO: (Top) Lansing Catholic's Jacqueline Setas (left) and Kalamazoo Hackett's Abby Radomsky line up a putt during Saturday's final round. The Cougars finished first and the Fighting Irish runner-up. (Middle) Muskegon Catholic Central's Aya Johnson finished as the individual champion after defeating Setas in a one-hole tie-breaker. (Below) Hannah Campbell views her scorecard, which includes a notation for her hole-in-one. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)