Houghton Extends Finals Streak to 5

May 28, 2015

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

IRON MOUNTAIN – When most people think of the Upper Peninsula's Copper Country, snow (huge amounts) and ice hockey come to mind.

Golf likely would not even be on the radar for most people. There is only one 18-hole course – Portage Lake Golf Club is an excellent layout – in the entire region to go with five 9-hole tracks, and the season is just more than five months long, in a good year.

But the Houghton High School girls easily can convince the most serious doubter that golf is a very attractive and popular activity. They showed that again in a big way here Thursday, romping to their fifth straight Upper Peninsula Division 1 golf championship.

The smallest in the nine-school field posted a 416 total to thump perennial contender Marquette by 20 strokes. Third-place Escanaba had 438, and no one else was better than 510.

Adding additional credence to the golf paradise aura is freshman Kaaren Liston of Houghton, who was medalist with a 90 at the very challenging Pine Grove Country Club. She was five strokes ahead of Marquette's Sydney Higgins, the only other entrant to break 100.

"This was a normal spring. It was a bit different," Houghton coach Corey Markham said of the ability to get on the course in mid-April instead of almost a month later in 2014. "The key is getting out and play and work on your game. They strive to get better.

"There is a lot of pride in the streak. There is not a whole lot of pressure."

Liston said her putting was a key, noting only one 3-putt green. "When I needed to make one, I made it. My chips I got close (to the hole). My putting saved me most of the time," she said. Her driving "was iffy. I hit it straight or to the right."

Liston had a key moment on her ninth hole, which was No. 18 after she started on No. 10. She pounded a long drive into the left rough but needed four swings from 110 yards before finally sinking a putt for double-bogey 6.

"I knew I needed to kick it in gear on the next nine," she said of that stumble that left her with a 10-over 46.

Liston spent spring break in Hilton Head, S.C., with her brother Wyatt and Gunnar Stein, who helped Houghton also retain the boys title. "That really helped get my swing in shape," she said.

She did not bring high personal expectations to Pine Grove. "I try to live in the moment, play my game and don't let it get to my head," she said. "This is great. I'm so excited about this. This is the icing on the cake."

Markham said his freshman ace "has a bright future. She is really a strong golfer."

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PHOTOS: (Top) The Houghton girls golf team poses with its MHSAA championship trophy, the fifth straight won by the program. (Middle) Kaaren Liston of Houghton chips out of the rough around the green Thursday at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 Final at Iron Mountain Pine Grove Country Club. Liston claimed medalist honors with a 90 to lead the Gremlins. (Below) Sam Henderson of Escanaba blasts out of a bunker on the eighth hole. She shot 112 to help the Eskymos finish third. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)

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.)