Divine Child Completes 4-Year Drive for 1st Championship

October 16, 2021

BATTLE CREEK – Dearborn Divine Child’s first steps toward Saturday began in 2018 when three freshmen helped the girls golf team return to the MHSAA Finals and finish 13th in Lower Peninsula Division 3.

A year later, that trio helped the Falcons move up to ninth. Then came last season, and plenty of adjustments, including a move to Division 2 – but Divine Child kept moving up the leaderboard, tying for fifth with Zeinab Saad, Julia Lizak and Madina Saad again leading the way.

All of that set the stage for this weekend at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley, and especially the final round. Those three seniors, along with junior Mary Ronayne – who joined the Finals lineup in 2020 – posted the best score of Saturday to overtake first-round leader South Lyon and lock up the first girls golf championship in program history.

Divine Child’s 344 made up for a six-stroke deficit after Friday and kept the Falcons ahead of eventual runner-up Byron Center with a two-day 691, good for a nine-stroke win.  

“It’s kinda unbelievable, but my team worked so hard for this and it’s been our goal since freshman year – and it feels good to finally complete our goal,” Lizak said. “We’ve been doing so good this year as a team, and we just had a feeling – especially last week talking about it. We came in thinking we could place really well.

“They’re my best friends, and I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone else. I love them all.”

Lizak cut five strokes from her first-round score to finish with a two-day 157, good for seventh individually, and Zeinab Saad shot matching 82s to tie for ninth. Leila Saad was three strokes better Saturday to finish with a 173, and Ronayne carded a 197.

Zeinab Saad and Lizak had missed the top-10 individual list in 2020 by two and three strokes, respectively, when the Finals were just one round because of COVID-19 precautions.

South Lyon golf“After last year, when we tied for fifth, I knew all we needed was just a little bit more,” Divine Child coach Dan Berry said, “and with the possibility that if it all came together and they played the way I knew they could play, we could get there. And they did, and we pulled through."

A year ago it was South Lyon celebrating its first team Finals title, and the Lions finished a solid third this time with a lineup of two seniors and three juniors – including a standout who picked up her second individual championship.

Junior Gabriella Tapp shot a two-round 144 to finish four strokes ahead of runner-up KT Leinwand of Portage Northern and add to the individual title she won as a freshman. Tapp tied for sixth a year ago.

“When I came here I was hoping our team would be able to win, and I was just rooting for them all day. Myself was a secondary thought,” Tapp said. “We have a lot of strong players on our team, and I think next year we’ll definitely have a shot too.”

Following Leinwand, a sophomore, in the individual standings was Byron Center sophomore Macie Elzinga, who cut two strokes from her Friday score to finish the weekend at 152. Her team was tied for fourth after the first day and cut eight strokes during the second to finish at 700.

Byron Center will graduate only one from its Finals lineup.

“At the start of the season, no one on our team thought we’d even make it here. I played really well and a lot of people on our team played well, so we’re really happy about it,” Elzinga said. “I’m not going to stop working hard at this. I want this one bad. There’s all the best players in the state here, and to be able to compete against them is pretty cool. I learned a lot about my game and how I can handle pressure, and I’m proud of how I played.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Dearborn Divine Child’s Julia Lizak powers through a drive during Friday’s first round at Bedford Valley. (Middle) South Lyon’s Gabriella Tapp putts Friday; she finished the weekend with her second individual championship. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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 [email protected] 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.)