By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
NORWAY – Payton Dube has had an extremely busy spring sports season at Hancock High School.
On Wednesday, the sophomore capped off one of her two sports by winning medalist honors at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 Girls Golf Final.
Dube posted an 84 (44-40) to coast to the title by 19 shots at Oak Crest Golf Course.
"It was all about making smart plays," Dube said as light rain began to fall shortly after she finished. "I was able to get on (the greens) in regulation, and that helps the scores well. If you get in the fairway, that always helps."
She had two birdies, one on each side, while starting on No. 11.
"When I hit a good drive, it gives me confidence the next (shot) will be good," she said.
Dube, who was in contention throughout the handful of spring meets that were salvaged after a lengthy winter's grip forced her indoors for numerous practice sessions, said, "I didn't know what to expect (in the Finals)" because she was competing against different schools.
The only member of the girls golf team at Hancock, Dube also spends the spring playing softball for the Bulldogs. Golf is her No. 1 choice and would get the nod if there were ever a conflict between the two sports.
"We have a small (Class C) school, and spring has so many other sports. You definitely have to prioritize," she said of her busy schedule that also includes a heavy academic load. She was late for only one softball game this season.
Topping the team scoreboard, the Painesdale-Jeffers girls won their third U.P. crown, adding to titles taken in 2006 and 2007.
Coach Tyler Bailey's team includes his younger sister Alexis and Gracie Asaila, who shared second place individuals with Norway's Danae Anderson at 103.
"It is awesome. It feels great to actually be her coach," Tyler Bailey said.
The Jets didn't realize they had beaten the only two other full teams until it was announced, Bailey noting he kept that news quiet.
When that news struck them, he said, "Their faces all lit up.”
The 481 was his team’s best score of this abbreviated spring. "I knew they had the potential to pull it out,” Bailey added. “Our expectations were they wanted to win.”
Dube’s father is a teacher at Hancock High School and sets up a golf simulator in his classroom for his daughter's practice when snow typically covers the Copper Country.
"You don't have to be outside to practice," she said with a grin.
Hancock coach Paul Sintkowski, who is also the golf pro at Portage Lake Golf Course in Houghton, said Dube is active on the junior golf circuit in Wisconsin during the summer. "She has played her whole life. She has 7-8 years in the junior golf program (at Portage Lake that has about 150 participants)," he said.
"The kids have put in their time up here. A lot of them play hockey, so their coordination stays sharp."
Sintkowski hopes the interest in the girls junior program begins to carry into the high school ranks. He said about 20 girls played golf at five Copper Country schools this spring. But Houghton, a perennial power, had 11 of the 20. He said starting a co-op program among other schools might provide a way to get more female participation.
"A lot of people don't take it too seriously," Dube said of trying to get other girls to play golf. "A lot of people don't find it challenging if they don't play (golf).
"You still have to practice that skill. In golf, you are playing the course, not the other player."
Sintkowski said Dube also will play in the Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association tournament at Norway in July.
"She hits the ball well, she is athletic but she needs a bit of focus. She had a good score today, but it could have been four-five strokes better," he said. "She is learning, but she has to get a little more polish. She has all the tools to play golf after high school."
PHOTOS: Sophomore Payton Dube of Hancock uses her rangefinder to get the yardage to the pin on the 13th hole at Norway’s Oak Crest Golf Course on Wednesday at the Upper Peninsula Division 2 Girls Golf Finals. With her is coach Paul Sintkowski. The system worked perfectly as her approach shot struck the flag. (Middle) Donae Anderson of Norway blasts out of a bunker by the 15th green. She tied for second, shooting 103. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)
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.)