Huskies Finish Strong to Reign Again

October 19, 2019

By Tom Lang
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – This threepeat was very sweet.

Carrying the heavy load of a No. 1 ranking all season after two consecutive years winning the Lower Peninsula Division 2 title, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern pulled away during the second round Saturday to secure its third consecutive MHSAA Finals championship at Forest Akers East on the campus of Michigan State.

Northern led South Lyon by only two strokes going into the final round (337-339) – an insignificant margin in team golf, which tabulates four individual scores. The past two years Northern had much larger cushions over the competition.

But Northern broke away to win this third title with a team total 337-311-648.

“We talked a lot about that before the second round,” coach Kent Graves said about having no room for error. “In years past we haven’t had to do that; we just had to get through it. Today we really had to focus, and they did, and it was a big win for us.

“I just love the kids. I’m just so proud of them. Not the fact that they won three in a row, but just that grit that they had coming back ... to focus and crush it today. I’m very proud of them.”

Northern was led by Lilia Henkel at 78-75-153, Anna Fay at 82-75-157, Ava Frost with 88-77-165 and Rylee Walters at 89-84-173 as all four scored better in round two.

Henkel tied for second individually with Emlin Munch of Traverse City Central, while Fay placed fourth overall.

“For us, I think being here three times was the difference” Graves said about the difference between the first and second rounds. “All five of our girls played in the final last year. You just can’t discount experience. To know where you’re at and know what you’ve got to do on the second day. I think they just went out and did it.”

Gabriella Tapp, a freshman from South Lyon, was not on most people’s radars, yet played two consecutive rounds of 75-75 to win the medalist title. She led by one stroke after the first round over teammate Katherine Potter, who finished 76-83-159 for fifth place individually as the pair powered the Lions to a team runner-up finish. South Lyon (674) was ranked No. 5 coming into the weekend.

“That’s a quality team. There’s some good players there,” Graves said.

Taking third place was Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central with a team total 711. Farmington Hills Mercy took fourth at 730, while Birmingham Groves and Fenton rounded out the top five teams, both finishing with 732.

Graves said Northern’s third consecutive title was due to a complete team effort – especially being under the microscope all season.

“They’ve got pretty good heads on their shoulders. My top two players – Lilia and Anna – play golf 12 months of the year. They play in a lot of big tournaments. The ones I’m really proud of, and I say this every year, you really don’t win this thing with just your No. 1 and No. 2; everybody has a good one and two. It’s players like Ava Frost that came back and shot a 77 today at our three spot. Rylee and Bailee Walters, our twins, came back at 84 and 87 today. That’s where you win it, at those three and four scores.”

So, could there be a fourth consecutive championship in Northern’s future?

Henkel and Fay return, with three juniors who are waiting their turns.

“These three girls have been out here for two days with us, walking the course and they know what it takes, and they definitely want to be a part of this next year,” Graves said. “And I’ll tell you what; they’re pretty good players. They’d be in the top three for almost every team in our conference.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Forest Hills Northern’s Ava Frost putts during Friday’s first round of the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final. (Middle) South Lyon’s Gabriella Tapp pops a chip toward the green. (Click to see more from

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 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.)