Harbor Springs Goes Low, Claims 1st Title

October 21, 2017

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Going into this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Division 4 Girls Golf Finals at Michigan State's Forest Akers East, the best team score Harbor Springs had produced this season was a 330.

When his team shot a 352 to place fourth after the first day, Harbor Springs coach Pete Kelbel pointed out that 330 number as a barometer for the Rams to try and close the 12-stroke gap that existed between them and first-place Almont.

“We already did a 330, and if we shot anywhere near what we did, we will be in the hunt,” Kelbel said.

Harbor Springs not only got to 330, but bettered it – and as a result was more than just in the hunt when it all was said and done.

The Rams were MHSAA champions.

Thanks to a blistering score of 328 in Saturday’s second and final round, Harbor Springs finished with a total of 650, 11 shots ahead of runner-up Jackson Lumen Christi.

Almont was third at 699, North Muskegon fourth with a 716 and Kalamazoo Hackett was fifth with a final score of 718.

The title was the first in Harbor Springs girls golf history. The Rams finished runner-up in 2014, their lone top-two finish before Saturday.

A big reason for the team jump was the improved scores on the second day from junior Madi Bezilla and sophomore Evie Garver.

After shooting an 87 on Friday, Bezilla did 11 shots better Saturday with a 76.

Garver also had an 11-stroke improvement, going from a 92 on Friday to an 81 on Saturday.

“(Evie) is probably the longest-hitting girl here,” Kelbel said. “Of course in golf you have to get the wedge shots on and the putts in, and that’s what she did today.”

Lumen Christi entered the day one shot back of Friday leader Almont and turned in a second-day score of 350, but it wasn’t enough to match Harbor Springs.

“This team won it,” Lumen Christi head coach David Swartout said of Harbor Springs. “My hats off to any team that can shoot that score on the second day. Typically on the second day, scores go up.”

However, the second-place finish was still a source of pride for Lumen Christi.

Swartout said the program was almost scrapped five years when only two girls came out for the team, and he saw one of the current seniors shoot a 21 on her first hole at the 2014 MHSAA tournament.

Lumen Christi ended up finishing 14th that season.

“To come from that to runner-up state champions, that’s phenomenal,” he said.

Senior Geraldine Berkemeier and junior Hillary Ziemba shot identical two-day scores of 163 to lead the way for Lumen Christi.

Individually, Brooklyn Columbia Central junior Alissa Fish emerged from a four-way tie for the lead after the first day to win medalist honors, following a first-day total of 79 with an 80 on Saturday.

“I struck my irons close enough, but I didn’t putt real well,” Fish said. “I actually putt really bad today and it had me in tears at some point. A lot of it came down to putting it close enough to where I could finish out a lot of holes.”

The individual runner-up was Almont senior Grace Zimmerman, who followed up a 79 on Friday with an 82 on Saturday to finish at 161.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Harbor Springs poses with its first MHSAA Finals championship trophy won in girls golf. (Middle) The top 10 individual finishers 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 [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.)