Escanaba Ends Houghton's Title Streak

June 2, 2016

By Keith Shelton
Special for Second Half

CHAMPION – For a full calendar year, the Escanaba girls golf team had a singular goal, and some lofty expectations. 

Houghton's Division 1 title streak had reached five years running, and the Gremlins were again led by sophomore Kaaren Liston, a formidable golfer who was medalist at last year's MHSAA U.P. Final at Pine Grove. Houghton shot a 416 that day, far higher than what the talented Gremlins had been averaging during the season, but still 22 strokes better than third place Escanaba. 

That was the mountain the Eskymos faced as they went into last summer's offseason. But from that point on, it was all business. 

Escanaba improved by leaps and bounds across the board through hard work and focus this season. On Thursday it all paid off, as the Eskymos were crowned U.P. Division 1 champions at Wawonowin Golf Club, breaking up the Gremlins’ long run. 

Escanaba shot 366 as a team, among the best team scores of the last decade by a girls team in the Upper Peninsula, and third at the Finals only to Houghton's 347 in 2013 and 365 in 2012.   

"I would like to know how many U.P.'s that (score) would have won in the last decade," remarked Eskymos coach Brian Robinette. “Probably all of them."

Escanaba was strong in returning talent at the beginning of the season, but it was the addition of freshman Paxton Johnson that put the Eskymos over the top. A quietly confident, focused and mentally strong golfer, Johnson's scores drew eyebrows from day one. She was medalist at her first meet of the season and continually improved as the short golf season went on. 

On Thursday, Johnson turned in a balanced effort, free of double bogeys, and was medalist with an 86. She improved by three strokes from a multi-team meet at Wawonowin earlier this season. Yet, being the competitor she is, Johnson expressed her commitment to keep working. 

"I improved by three strokes from the first time I played here, which I was pretty happy about," Johnson said. "I didn't have any doubles, but I still could have definitely played better. I still shot well enough though."

Playing in a foursome with Houghton's Liston, Menominee's Emma Hofer and Gladstone's Ashley Edwardsen, Johnson embraced the competition level. Her and Liston were all even through 17 holes, until the 18th when Liston triple bogeyed. Johnson escaped with a bogey and the title. Liston finished as runner-up with an 88, along with Ellie Hicks of Marquette. 

"It definitely helps to be neck and neck with someone," said Johnson. 

But the main philosophy the Escanaba girls subscribed to was not focusing on competition against other teams and players, but internal competition within each of them. 

"I think they were all looking at this as, not playing against Houghton or Gladstone, but playing against the shot that golf is asking me to hit," said Robinette. "They really have embraced that concept, and that's what an intelligent golfer will do. When you take all that other fluff away, and all you can control is the shot in front of you. I'd say they effectively accomplished that today."

Houghton's runner-up team score of 389 would have been good for first on a lot of days. While Gremlins coach Corey Markham was pleased with his team's play, he could only tip his hat to the play of Escanaba. 

"Our girls played very well today, like we expected. But they ran into a great Escanaba team," Markham said. "A 366 score is phenomenal. They just had a great day. You're not going to beat that score too often."

Escanaba's Megan Dagenais placed fourth with a 91, and teammate Kaitlin Cole tied for fifth with a 93 with Sydney Higgins of Marquette. Emily Hossele rounded out the Eskymos' top four with a 96, good for eighth overall. 

After Escanaba and Houghton, there was a drop-off of 22 strokes to third place Marquette with 411. Calumet was fourth with 450 and Gladstone fifth with 454. 

With Escanaba's mission accomplished and a job well done, Johnson has personal aims to continue to improve.

"It's going to be golf, all summer long," Johnson vowed.

And if the rest of the team improves, the Eskymos could be favored to repeat next season. Emily Hossele is the only top-five senior on the team. 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Escanaba’s Paxton Johnson watches her shot on the No. 2 fairway at Wawonowin Country Club. (Middle) Houghton's Kaaren Liston hits out of a tough lie on No. 2. (Photos by Keith Shelton.)

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.)