By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half
TRAVERSE CITY – Maple City Glen Lake senior Nichole Cox will try to become just the third golfer to win three consecutive MHSAA Lower Peninsula individual golf championships when she tees off today in the Division 4 final at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West.
With a three-peat, Cox would equal the accomplishments of Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Katy Loy (1993-95) and Okemos’ Elle Nichols (2011-13).
But that’s not foremost on her mind this morning.
“I’m not focusing on that,” Cox said. “I’m focusing on striking the ball well, not making tactical errors, just going out and having fun in my last high school tournament.”
The 18-year-old is the only girl from northern Michigan to win a Lower Peninsula title since the MHSAA started offering a postseason tournament in 1973.
Her friend, Traverse City West sophomore Anika Dy, is hoping to become the second this weekend. Dy, the Division 1 runner-up last October, is leading the reigning champion Titans into play today at Forest Akers East.
“They are two of the best, if not the best, (girls) golfers to come out of this area – ever,” Glen Lake coach Paul Christiansen said. “And Anika is just a sophomore, which is amazing.”
Cox and Dy have played in numerous high school and junior tournaments together. They text frequently.
“They’re happy for each other’s success,” Christiansen said.
And when asked, they’re genuinely excited to talk about the other.
“She can hit the ball so far,” Dy said of Cox. “She eats the short courses alive. She’ll drive the green. She’s so long and powerful.”
“She’s very focused,” Cox said of Dy. “She doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. She might not hit it as far as me sometimes, but she makes up for it with a really good short game.”
That’s been evident this fall as Dy has lowered her 18-hole average nearly seven strokes, dropping from 77.1 to 70.5.
“I’m hitting the ball a little better, but it’s mostly been my putting,” she said. “Each course is different and you have to adapt to the greens. I think I’ve adapted better this year.”
West coach Kristen Nolan said Dy’s scores reflect a more consistent player.
“She’s been consistently in the low 70s, if not 60s,” she said. “She’s more focused on each shot, more focused on course management.”
Dy, who shattered the women’s course record at the Grayling Country Club with a 65 in August, agreed she’s keeping the ball in the fairway better, and it’s enabled her to “score well’ even when she’s not at the top of her game.
The 15-year-old won last Thursday’s Regional on The Meadows at Grand Valley State University with a 3-under 70. That was the same course where she fired a 79-77 in last year’s MHSAA Final.
“I had a pretty good day, but honestly it was not my best because I had a stretch where I struggled and bogeyed a couple holes,” she said. “I wasn’t hitting it as well. But my attitude and positive thinking kept me going. I kept it in the present and didn’t think about what happened because I knew I couldn’t change it.”
Dy’s round included an eagle.
“She missed another eagle when a 20-foot putt just lipped out,” Nolan said. “Overall, she played solid golf.”
So did her teammates. West shot a 309 and placed four golfers in the top six. Hunter Kehoe was second with a 76, Megan Jenkinson tied for fourth with an 81 and Grace Ellul tied for sixth with an 82.
“They were excited,” Nolan added. “When we looked back at our scores (at The Meadows) last year we knew we could do better. We wanted redemption.”
West shot team totals of 348 and 337 there a year ago. Kehoe had rounds of 87 and 80 in the Final.
“Hunter’s improved so much,” Nolan said. “Last year she had a few rounds in the 70s, but she was consistently in the low 80s. Now, she’s got into a streak of shooting in the 70s, and I’m excited for her.”
Dy said the Titans, who have won 12 tournaments in a row, celebrated after the Regional, but not like last year.
“I think we expected it,” she said. “We were super happy, but our focus now is on states. We know there will be a lot of good teams in the Finals. We just want to do our best.”
West is ranked No. 2 in Division 1 behind Rochester, which won its Regional with a 289. Rochester was led by Brooke Busse’s 69.
Cox, meanwhile, had to contend with windy conditions last Friday at Manistee Country Club to win her Division 4 Regional. She shot a 79 – her highest score of the season.
“I didn’t play as well as I would have liked,” she said, “but the conditions were by far the worst of any Regional.”
“We had sustained winds of 20 to 30 miles-per-hour,” Christiansen said. “Club selection was really difficult.”
It was the fourth consecutive Regional crown for Cox.
“Not too many kids are able to win a Regional event four years in a row – in any sport,” Christiansen said. “That, in itself, is a representation of how consistent she’s been over the years.”
Cox is averaging just over 74 a round, nearly the same average she sported a year ago. But her scores have been more consistent. A year ago, they ranged between 69 and 83. This season she’s been in the 70s every tournament.
She’s done that despite being sick a couple weeks.
In addition, Cox, who has committed to Bowling Green, reached the semifinal round in the 100th Michigan Women’s Amateur in August, losing to eventual champion Allyson Geer by a stroke on the final hole.
“When you count her summer and fall, she’s had an outstanding year,” Christiansen said.
Cox qualified for the MHSAA Finals as an individual, like last year, which means she will not play in the same group with any individual contenders whose teams qualified.
“It might hinder you a little, but at the same time I’m going to play my game,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who I’m playing with because I’m playing against the course.”
Cox shot rounds of 76-74 to win the Division 4 title by six shots last October.
Christiansen expects Cox to go into the Finals excited and confident. His only concern?
“I hope she doesn’t put too much pressure on herself to do well,” he said.
For one thing, Christiansen added, you can’t control what your competitors are doing.
“It’s not like basketball where you can play better defense and keep (opponents) from scoring,” he said. “You just have to go out, do your thing, do the best you can and what happens, happens.”
What Christiansen hopes happens is this: “That she ends (her high school career) with a third championship.”
Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Maple City Glen Lake's Nichole Cox (left) hits an approach toward the green, and Traverse City West's Anika Dy watches one of her shots during their respective MHSAA Finals in 2015. (Middle) Cox (left) poses for photos with runner-up Meg Watkins of Frankenmuth after receiving last season's Division 4 championship medal. (Below) Dy (top row, far right) stands with her teammates and their Division 1 team championship trophy. (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.)