Glen Lake's Champ Sets Sights Higher

September 9, 2015

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

TRAVERSE CITY – The ball landed on the green a few feet past and left of the hole.

One hundred and eleven yards away, at the tee box on the 11th hole at the Katke Golf Course in Big Rapids, Glen Lake's Nichole Cox squinted through the bright sunshine on this late August day to see where she would putt for birdie.

Turns out, there would be no birdie putt. The backspin Cox put on the ball with her pitching wedge, coupled with the slope of the green, drew the ball right to the cup. Just like that, the defending Lower Peninsula Division 4 champion had her first career hole-in-one en route to a personal-best 3-under 69 in winning the Cardinal Invitational.

That shot typifies Cox's torrid pre-Labor Day start to the 2015 season. Four matches, four impressive victories, including the two-day, 36-hole Lober Classic at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. Cox shot rounds of 71 and 76 on the Spruce Run and Wolverine courses to take the title by two strokes over Brighton's Annie Pietila, who had led by three shots after opening with a 68.

"It was crazy," Cox said. "I was proud of myself. That was my goal (to win the tournament)."

Glen Lake was the smallest school in the 26-team field.

"I think that might be the best competition we'll see until the state tournament," Lakers coach Paul Christiansen said.

The 17-year-old Cox also won two matches at Mistwood. She fired an even-par 71 to claim the Traverse City West Titan Invitational by nine strokes and then came back a few days later with a 1-under 70 to capture a triangular match by 13 strokes.

Of her five 18-hole rounds, she's played four at par or under par.

"She's pretty motivated," Christiansen said. "She is her own toughest critic. She has high expectations. She'll say her goal is to win every match this year."

To do that, Cox said she's had to sharpen her focus. She said she no longer worries about her score during a match. Instead, she is more intent on the "simple things," like making sure she hits the fairways and greens. The rest, she said, will take care of itself.

"I've been making a lot more up and downs," the junior said. "I feel good about it right now."

Always known as a long ball hitter off the tee, Cox has steadily improved as a putter.

"I can basically two-putt from anywhere (on the green)," she said. "I don't three-putt much. That's a big step from last year."

She's also had her share of one-putts, knocking down a number of long birdie attempts.

Her putting has been aided by a stronger approach game, thanks to a new set of Callaway Apex irons she put in her bag before the season.

"(The switch) was mostly to control her iron play, trajectory and distance," Scott Wilson, her swing coach in the Junior Elite program at Crystal Mountain, said. "She dialed in almost immediately. Certainly that's a concern when you make an equipment change like that (before the season), but it was the right fit for her. I wish we would have done it sooner."

Cox, who was third in LP Division 4 as a freshman, enjoyed a solid summer on the links, competing in the Michigan Women's Open and Michigan Amateur, where she reached the Sweet 16.

"Every year she just gets better," her father, Duane, said. "She's playing with more confidence. It's not just one thing that's getting better, everything is getting better. Her numbers this year are so much better – and they were good last year."

Christiansen said it's fun to watch her play.

"Really good players have their own swing coaches, and I don't want to mess that up," he said. "I think you can have too many voices. My job is to keep her relaxed, keep her in the moment, keep her level-headed so she's not too hard on herself. You have to be able to let a bad shot go."

Christiansen maneuvers around the course to watch all of his golfers during a match, so he's not with Cox constantly.

"That's one cool thing about golf, unlike some other sports where the coach is with you 100 percent of the time," he said. "You've got to adjust to situations yourself and learn course management. She's played so much golf, she's really good at figuring out what she's doing right and wrong."

Cox has been around the game for years. When she and her twin brother Brandon were in kindergarten, their parents bought a home with a driving range. The family has operated the Dune Valley Driving Range the last 10 years. It's across the road from the Dunes Golf Club, which the family plays regularly.

"I thought it would be a great place for kids to grow up," Duane said.

Cox edged Farwell's Bria Colosky by one stroke to win last season’s MHSAA Final with a 36-hole score of 159. They and two others entered the second round tied for first at 83, but Cox shot a 76, to Colosky’s 77, to finish the competition.

"I thought I lost it because I double-bogeyed my last hole," Cox said. "I was pretty convinced I blew it for myself. I was surprised that I won."

Cox would like to take that surprise element out of the equation this year.

"The goal is to get better every match so that next month she's ready to roll (in the MHSAA tournament)," Christiansen said.

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. 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.

PHOTOS: (Top) Maple City Glen Lake's Nichole Cox watches a shot during last season's Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final. (Middle) Cox unloads a tee shot during another 2014 event. (Middle photo courtesy of Glen Lake High School.)

3-Sport Standout Sluss Gives Lenawee Christian All-State Boost for Every Season

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

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 [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.)