'Energizer' Leads Grosse Ile to Title

October 19, 2013

By Chip Mundy
Special to Second Half

BATTLE CREEK – Margaret Esordi says she likes to play golf in the rain, and she proved it Saturday in the MHSAA Division 4 girls golf championship meet at Bedford Valley Golf Course.

Esordi, a sophomore who has been the No. 5 player for Grosse Ile, battled the cold and rain for a 38 on her first nine holes and finished with a team-best 85 to lead the Red Devils to their second MHSAA championship in three years.

Grosse Ile held a six-stroke lead after play Friday and finished just two ahead of runner-up Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian.

“I was in shock when I came in,” said Esordi, who shot 94 on Friday. “I was just really focused, and I wasn’t thinking too much. I was just focused on helping my teammates, especially the seniors. I wanted to make it special for them.

“I like to play in the rain, and we knew the challenges that we faced, and we all stuck together and focused.”

Grosse Ile coach Jim Bennett was thrilled with the play of Esordi.

“She’s been No. 5 all year, and she came to life and just had a great front nine,” he said. “She just hit everything solid and started making putts.”

Senior Emily Bargardi confirmed just how special it was to win another title.

“It feels amazing,” she said. “We were state champions my sophomore year, so to have the feeling again is incredible. Since I was a sophomore then, I really didn’t know what really was going on, but being a senior makes it that much better.”

Bargardi’s two-day total of 171 led Grosse Ile, but she slipped to an 88 on Saturday after an opening 83 on Friday.

“I normally don’t play that good in bad conditions,” she said. “It was really tough for me because I was really nervous because of my previous times in the cold and rain – they haven’t been so good.

“My front nine was really bad – I had a 46 – but when I teed off on No. 10, the weather was still bad but I thought, ‘I’m definitely going to come back,’ and I did, which I’m really proud of.

“It wasn’t my best, but it was enough to win.”

Bargardi said she was re-energized when she found out how well Esordi was playing.

“Oh my gosh, I think that almost made me play better because it made me so happy,” Bargardi said. “I was so proud of her.

“I found out when I was about to tee off on No. 14, and I was just like, ‘I think I can finish strong; I think we all can finish strong.’ ”

Grosse Ile had a balanced team, and all five players finished among the top four for the team on either Friday or Saturday. In addition to Bargardi and Esordi, Katherine Kuzmiak had 88-92-180, Megan Moco had 91-96-187 and Katie Williams had 101-95-196.

“We’ve been bunched together all year,” Bennett said. “We don’t have that No. 1 player that goes out and shoots a great score, but all the girls pick up each other.”

The second-place finish by just two strokes was tough to take for Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian.

“Our girls are hurting al little bit right now from looking at themselves, but you can’t do that,” coach Tom Koert said. “I’ve even had to take a second and say, ‘Wait a minute. We all tried our hardest.’ Not one girl gave up one minute, and that’s the proudest you can be of a team. If they all give every minute out there, you can’t dip your head.

“We’ll fix ourselves from this, but right now it’s hard for them and me. I’m so proud of what they did.”

Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian did have the most inspirational player in sophomore Jessica Zystra, who was honored at the end of the tournament for her courage to play golf after having scoliosis.

Zystra had surgery to put two metal rods in her back and she has 10 fused vertebrae, but she walked all 36 holes and finished with 104-99-195.

“The hardest part was before the surgery, deciding whether to have it or not because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do any activities like sports anymore,” Zystra said. “It’s been great the last couple of years. I’ve recovered very well, and it’s just been great.”

When asked if she could have imagined this day a few years ago, Zystra could not have given a better answer.

“Anything can happen, and today’s just a great day,” she said.

Monica Koert led Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian with 84-75-159, and third-place Flint Powers Catholic had Kristen Wolfe and Morgan Zloto each with 168 as the team finished six strokes behind Grosse Ile.

Three-time defending champion Lansing Catholic finished fourth and had the individual champion in senior Jacqueline Setas, who had a 150 total to win by nine strokes over Koert, who finished second. Setas had 77 on Friday and 73 on Saturday and seemed more pleased with the showing of her team, which lost four of its top five players from a year ago.

“I think everyone really didn’t think our team could be in the top five this year, so I think we made a bold statement,” said Setas, who plans to play golf at Michigan State University. “Just to make top four is an accomplishment.”

Lansing Catholic shot 359 on Saturday for its lowest 18-hole score all season.

“I’m feeling pretty good but a little sad for the seniors who are leaving,” coach Mary Schafer said. “It’s been a very special time.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Grosse Ile's Emily Bargardi putts during the second round of this weekend's LP Division 2 Final. (Middle) Lansing Catholic's Jacqueline Setas watches a shot Saturday on the way to winning the individual championship in her final high school event. (Click to see 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 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.)