Dow Earns New Norm: Title Contender
September 15, 2015
By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
MIDLAND — Alexie Flaminio has seen how the influence of a few highly motivated, hard-working teammates can transform a team and its expectations.
As a freshman in 2012, she was on a Midland Dow golf team that wasn't a factor on the state level. The Chargers finished eighth of 14 teams in their regional tournament, 31 shots out of the third and final qualifying berth for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final.
This was the norm at Dow, which had qualified for the finals only four times and made the top 10 only once during the first 41 years of the MHSAA's sponsorship of a girls golf tournament.
"We didn't have a lot of depth on the team," Flaminio recalls. "We had a few good players. Our top three was pretty good. I know I wasn't playing as well as I am right now. We had two seniors and a sophomore who were the only people who scored on our team."
Things changed radically at Dow the following season.
That's when senior Kharissa Carras made the decision to play golf after three years on the volleyball team. She was joined on the team that year by her freshman sister, Stephanie. They led Dow to the first of its two straight regional championships and the best finish in an MHSAA finals tournament in school history, a third-place showing in Division 2. Kharissa was the regional medalist and both sisters made the top 10 in the final.
Dow followed that up by taking fifth in Division 2 last fall, with Stephanie Carras placing fourth individually. Kharissa moved on to play college golf, but freshman Alexis Carras joined the team as a solid No. 2 golfer.
"They set an example for us, because they're out there every day of the week practicing," Flaminio said. "I wasn't practicing as much my freshman year. Once I got to my sophomore year, I started practicing more. The three of us were practicing quite a few days a week. They have a work ethic that is ridiculous for high school. They live and breathe golf. They're doing really well for us."
Dow coach Doug Bradford also cited the influence of the Carras girls as a primary reason why Dow is suddenly a state power in girls golf.
"It kind of fed into some of the other kids where they're putting time into it," Bradford said. "Maybe they wouldn't go practice on weekends or do those things. They do it now because that's the example that's been set. It's been interesting to watch the change in mindset. Tennis has been been big for both boys and girls. Several years ago, we had Kim Dihn, who went to Wisconsin and was as an individual (MHSAA Finals qualifier in 2009). We've had some good individuals, but we haven't grouped them together like we have now."
The Carras sisters work hard at their craft, but it doesn't feel like work to them.
"I love golf," Alexis said. "I usually spend about three hours a day on average doing golf. It's just a lot of fun. I started about two or three years ago very competitively, but my whole life golf was there. It was always an option. For college, not many girls play golf. I was very intrigued by it, because my older sister Kharissa was playing it. I loved the sport. We could play with our parents; we could play with our grandparents. It seemed like a sport you could play for life."
Now that the Chargers have established themselves as an elite team in Division 2, they are working toward taking the final step and winning an MHSAA championship.
The state's coaches certainly think Dow has an excellent shot at the title, ranking the Chargers No. 1 in Division 2.
"We've been in the top five the last couple years," Bradford said. "In that situation, you're kind of used to being up there. It's not a bad thing. It's obviously nice recognition, but there are a lot of good teams in Division 2 throughout the state. When you're first moving up, you do like to sneak up on people, but now that we've been there people know about you and what to expect. Birmingham Seaholm could easily be ranked No. 1. Okemos is very good. We just saw them at a tournament at Holt. They shot 328 and beat us down there, so they're right there. South Lyon has a nice team."
If things work out the way she hopes, Stephanie Carras could win two MHSAA titles at the LP Division 2 tournament Oct. 16-17 at Bedford Valley in Battle Creek.
As a sophomore, Carras was fourth in Division 2 last year behind two seniors and a junior with a score of 87-75–162 at Forest Akers West in East Lansing. As a freshman, she was third in Division 2, four strokes off the lead after shooting 79-80–159 at Forest Akers East.
"I hope to win states this year," Stephanie said. "I think I'm ready. Before, I wasn't mentally prepared. After seeing I really can shoot these scores to win the tournament, I think I'm better prepared this year."
Stephanie Carras leads Dow with an 18-hole average of 76. Alexis Carras averages 80, Flaminio 85 and sophomore Mina Fabiano 95.
"It makes golf so much more fun when you have your teammates come in with a great score," Alexis Carras said. "It makes everything so much more exciting."
Dow has sought out tough competition in its quest to be prepared for the postseason, which will begin with the regional tournament on Oct. 7 at The Emerald in St. Johns. That regional includes sixth-ranked Flushing and ninth-ranked St. Johns.
The Chargers placed second on a tie-breaker to Novi, the sixth-ranked team in Division 1, in the two-day Bob Lober Invitational in Traverse City. Dow beat defending Division 2 champion Seaholm in the highly competitive Troy Invitational, placing fourth behind Rochester (No. 1 in Division 1), Troy (No. 2 in Division 1) and Lake Orion (No. 4 in Division 1).
Dow won the Flint Powers Catholic Invitational, which also served as the first Saginaw Valley League jamboree. The Chargers finished ahead of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (No. 3 in Division 3) and Powers (No. 6 in Division 3) in that tournament. The Chargers also won their own tournament.
"As the competition gets better, it gets harder," Stephanie Carras said. "But the more you do it, the easier it gets."
Bradford hopes that playing a tough schedule, combined with the experience of two MHSAA Finals, serves the Chargers well come mid-October.
"I think it will," he said. "Any time you get to regionals and get to state, there are still a little bit of nerves. They've been through it and know what to expect, so hopefully we can play well at regionals and get a chance to go there again."
Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Midland Dow's Stephanie Carras fires a shot out of a bunker during last season's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final at Forest Akers West. (Middle) From left, coach Doug Bradford, Alexis Carras, Mina Fabiano, Tatum Matthews, Morgan Deiters, Caroline Szabo, Alexie Flaminio and Stephanie Carras. (Below) Alexie Flaminio lines up a putt; she scored third for the Chargers as they finished fifth overall.
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.)