FORE: Harbor Springs Ace Back for More
October 9, 2020
By Tom Spencer
Special for Second Half
Golf etiquette dictates that golfers should always yell "fore" upon hitting a shot that carries the risk of hitting another golfer. As long as one yells "fore," the golfer did all she or he could to warn the other golfers.
Golfers also are supposed to convey this message to others in as polite a manner as possible.
“Four” though is the polite warning golfers should heed as they participate in the Division 4 golf championship at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West on Oct. 17.
The school record-holder from Harbor Springs is not likely to exclaim “four” – but she is looking to at least claim “four” — as in consecutive MHSAA Finals championships.
Jacque O’Neill won the individual title last fall as a junior. She’ll be looking to repeat that feat as well as help the Rams win a third team championship in four seasons after they finished Division 4 runners-up in 2019. O’Neill, now a senior, was a freshman on the 2017 Division 4 champion Harbor team and a sophomore on the 2018 championship squad.
Shouting the word “fore” once usually suffices, although it's acceptable to shout it repeatedly if the shot is sailing toward another group of golfers.
No one would blame O’Neill is she shouted four repeatedly.
But be clear. O’Neill isn’t sounding this warning. Her golfing is.
In addition to seeking a fourth straight team or individual Finals championship, she is likely to be selected to the Division 4 all-state team for a fourth-straight year. She is coming off a third-straight Regional individual championship.
Her hopes for a team title this October lie in four as well. Harbor has a pretty good idea whom of its golfers will fill the top three scoring spots. The fourth will go to one of the newer players. The fourth may make the difference as the Regional champions seek another Finals championship.
“My goal is certainly to win another state championship, but I wouldn’t say that I feel a lot of pressure,” O’Neill said. “I’m just looking at it as another chance to show my ability, and hopefully break my new record.
“Any nerves I feel after that usually changes to excitement, and it is one of my favorite feelings.”
O’Neill put her name in history books this fall. She shot a school-record 73 at the Cheboygan Country Club.
“She works for everything,” said her coach Pete Kelbel. “She practices all the time.
“If she plays a round and her putting his bad, guess where she is practicing ... on the putting green.”
Kelbel is taking the Rams to their eighth-straight Finals. He’s won two titles with his record-setting senior’s older sister, Calli O’Neill. Calli, now on the golf team at Aquinas College, and Jacque have benefited from strong family support and three golf professionals, one of whom is especially closely tied.
Brian O’Neal, the girls’ father, is a golf pro. He was once named to Golf Digest’s “Best Teachers” list in Michigan. Jacque has received guidance from another golf pro, Shaun Bezilla, Harbor Point’s head golf professional and director of instruction. And, her high school coach, Kelbel, is a golf pro at Walloon Lake Country Club.
“I want to express my extreme gratitude for being a part of such an amazing program with such great teammates,” the younger O’Neill said. “Being on the golf team these past four years has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I am very excited about my next chapter. But it is very hard to say goodbye to this one.
“I have met so many amazing people, and I have such great memories,” she continued. “So thank you to everyone who has made this journey so great. I also want to thank Shaun Bezilla for helping me get my game to where it is today along with Pete Kelbel for all of his help in making me the player that I am today. As well as everyone at Boyne Highlands for their support. I would not be where I am today without the help from these people and many more.”
As she prepares for another Final, she is focused on all the family support she receives.
“Calli was one of my teammates in the past, and she has always pushed me to work harder and practice more,” Jacque noted. “She has definitely helped me fall in love with the game of golf because it is something that we love to do together.
“My dad has helped me develop my game throughout the years and pushed me to work harder,” she went on. “My mom, Connie, is my biggest supporter and comes to all my matches. She is always encouraging me. Having a family that all loves golf certainly helps! My extended family has also always encouraged me and helped me along the way, which means the world to me.”
Harbor Springs athletic director Anna Rigby is proud of the golf program’s history. She is looking for another good result at this month’s Finals.
“I've developed an incredible sense of pride watching the program be so successful year after year,” she said. “For Jacque to consistently achieve that level of success in a sport like golf speaks volumes to her fortitude and commitment to the game.
“I'm feeling good about what we'll see from her in the Finals again this year.”
Kelbel has his own “fore” warning for everyone. Although it is really more of a fact of the matter.
“Jacque can’t get enough golf,” he said. “She has kept growing and getting stronger throughout the year and improved her strength as swimmer.
“She’d play if you tied her up like a mummy,” he continued. “She just deals with it and she wants to shoot a school record every time she plays.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTO: Harbor Springs’ Jacque O’Neill fires an approach during the 2019 Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley. (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.
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 [email protected] 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.)