GLADSTONE – Poor weather may have limited the Ontonagon girls’ time on the golf course this spring.
But the Gladiators made any opportunities to prepare pay off as they repeated as Upper Peninsula Division 3 champions Wednesday at Irish Oaks Golf Course.
Ontonagon's girls finished with 418 strokes, followed by Cedarville at 429 and Powers North Central with 438.
"Our girls have been shooting around 105," Ontonagon coach Adam Spaulding said. "We knew what they brought to the table. We were beating some D-1 schools in our three meets. We knew we could compete.”
Three Ontonagon golfers bettered that 105, while the fourth scorer shot 108. Senior Whitney Rule led the way with a fifth-place 102.
This marked the second straight runner-up finish for the Cedarville girls.
"The girls did good today," said Cedarville coach Rob Freel. "Runner-up, we'll take that any day. We have no seniors on either team (girls or boys), which is encouraging.
“I'm real happy with how our girls played. I'm proud of all the kids."
Cedarville junior Lily Freel regained her individual title with an 85, a comfortable 12 strokes ahead of North Central sophomore Jadie Linder. Mackinac Island junior Makenna Horricks and North Central sophomore Ava Eichhorn shared third place at 100.
"There were some rough holes," said Lily Freel, who was runner-up last year after winning the tournament as a freshman in 2017. "I had quite a few bogeys. I just kept telling myself to do the best I can and focused on the next shot. I birdied the last hole on both nines. It felt great to finish strong and win it. I was kind of disappointed last year, but that just made me work harder."
Linder was happy to be runner-up after placing third a year ago.
"The last two years have gone pretty well," she said. "The back nine went pretty rough today. I struggled with my short game. I couldn't hit my irons. Then, I figured out my irons on the front nine and started feeling better about the way my game was going.
“Lily had a phenomenal round. It means a lot to me to take second."
Rock Mid-Peninsula junior Kennedy Englund, Mackinac Island sophomore Ella Cowell and Cedarville sophomore Lauren Miller all tied Rule for fifth at 102.
PHOTOS: (Top) The Ontonagon girls golf team is pictured together after winning the Upper Peninsula Division 3 title Thursday at Irish Oaks in Gladstone. (Middle) Cedarville’s Lily Freel. (Photos by Austin Hemmingson.)
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.)