FHN's Henkel Off to Headline-Making Start

September 11, 2020

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

GRAND RAPIDS – Lilia Henkel admitted to struggling a bit with her golf game during the months leading up to this high school girls golf season.

You wouldn’t have guessed it after the Forest Hills Northern senior sent a buzz through the statewide golf community with a record-setting performance in her season debut.

Henkel fired an eye-popping 12-under-par 60 last month in the Mona Shores Invitational at Stonegate Golf Club.

“It was a mediocre summer, and the past few tournaments before then I didn’t play that well,” Henkel said. “I played some of my worst golf, and I just wasn’t hitting the ball where I needed to. I was frustrated and confused about what was happening.”

Henkel overcame the issues she was encountering in the first event of a fall season that was in jeopardy due to the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Golf, tennis and cross country were the first sports cleared to play after five months, and the three-time all-state selection took advantage of the opportunity.

“It was obviously the first event for any high school sport and everything just set up perfectly,” said Henkel, who made the all-state Super Team last season. “The weather was beautiful, the course was awesome and it was good to be back with the team. With everything that has been going on, we all just wanted to go out and have fun and make it as memorable as possible.”

Henkel has enjoyed her share of high school golf highlights; she individually tied for second at the 2019 Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final, tied for third in 2018 and was seventh as a freshman.

But her round at Stonegate certainly made for another memorable moment. 

She set a course record, besting the previous low round of 66, set by former Miss Golf and two-time MHSAA Finals champion Laura Kueny.

“The pro at Stonegate couldn’t believe it, and he gave her a certificate,” Forest Hills Northern coach Kent Graves said. “That’s a difficult course. We’ve been going out there to play for a number of years and it’s not an easy course by any means, but she was just all over it that day.”

Henkel’s first nine holes included three birdies and three eagles, as she shot a stunning 8-under-par 28 entering the back nine.

She rolled in a 25-foot eagle putt on No. 5, and then followed with a 20-foot chip-in from just off the green on No. 6. She chipped in for an unexpected eagle yet again on No. 9.

“That was one of my favorite holes,” Henkel said. “It was a short par 4 and I drove it to the side of a greenside bunker. I didn’t realize how fast and downhill that green was, and I duffed my chip. I hit ground first, and it landed just five feet on the green. I thought it was going to be short, but it kept going and went in.”

Henkel made four more birdies on the back nine for a 32. Her final score bested her previous low round by seven strokes; however, she wasn’t completely satisfied after the round.

“It sounds bad, but I didn’t feel like I played great golf, I just played good golf,” Henkel said. “I know I’m capable of shooting that score. Sixty is real low, but I know I’m capable of shooting an under-par round.

“If I didn’t leave anything out there I would’ve been like, ‘Wow, I just shot a really good score,’ but I honestly felt like at the very least I left three (shots) out there, if not four or five, because I had two three-putts and then I remember a 6-foot birdie putt that I missed.”

Graves, who has guided the Huskies to three straight wins at the MHSAA Division 2 Finals, also believed Henkel could’ve gone even lower.

“I hate to say this, but I looked at her card and saw 60 and I was disappointed,” Graves said. “She had 28 (on the front nine) so I was hoping for sub-60. That is the silliest thing in the world to say in retrospect, but what a great round. It was just one of those days when everything came together.”

Henkel admitted to having aspirations of bettering her score as well.

“On the 11th tee box I said to myself and to the girls I was playing with that I was going to shoot 59,” she said. “That was my goal. There wasn’t a sliver of doubt in my mind that I couldn’t go and do it. I was having fun, it was an awesome day, so I thought, ‘Let’s go do this.’” 

Led by Henkel and senior Anna Fay, a two-time all-stater, the Huskies have since won two more tournaments – the Kent County Classic and Forest Hills Central Invitational. Henkel shot under par at both.

Henkel likes this year’s veteran group as she and her teammate pursue a rare fourth Finals win in a row. The Mona Shores teams from 2009-12, with four straight titles, are the only Lower Peninsula girls golf teams to win more than three straight Finals championships.

 “If we could get the four-peat it would be a cherry on the top, mic drop, I’m out,” Henkel said. “I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season, and the other girls have been shooting great scores so far. I see the potential in this team, and we’ve been working hard in practice. It’s been really nice.”

Graves believes this year’s team can contend for another Division 2 title.

“You certainly give yourself a chance anytime you have players like Lilia and Anna on the team,” he said. “Everyone has a great one and two, but it’s that three, four and five (player) that really wins championships. And I think we’re really solid in those positions this year.”    

Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for four years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at dream100@comcast.net with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTO: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern's Lilia Henkel putts during last season's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final at Forest Akers East. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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.)