Iron Mountain Atones, Emeralds Ace Medals

June 2, 2016

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

NORWAY – The Iron Mountain girls golf team found solid incentive and excellent motivation and turned that into an Upper Peninsula championship Thursday.

The Mountaineers atoned for a third-place finish a week earlier in the Mid-Peninsula Conference tournament, also held here at Oak Crest Golf Club, to overcome M-PC champion Manistique for the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 title title. IM finished at 490, a dozen strokes ahead of Manistique, which slid back to third.

Iron River West Iron County finished second in the five-team field with 497.

A week earlier Manistique shot 460 while IM had 499. Ishpeming Westwood, the M-PC runner-up, competed in the Division 1 Final on Thursday in Ishpeming.

"Each one of them improved their game from the Mid-Pen Conference," said IM coach Bucky Johnson. "We played a little better and a few of their (Manistique) girls didn't play as good."

Manistique coach Deb Taylor agreed, adding "our girls just didn't play up to their potential today."

Johnson said he discussed his team's prospects with the girls leading up to the U.P. Finals. "We have been chasing Manistique all year. I told them if we keep getting better we will have the opportunity to win the championship," he said.

The girls responded, which did not surprise Johnson because they have participated in all the team practices and meets all season. "Their consistency paid off; they were persistent," he said.

IM succeeded with three juniors (Lexi Verrette, Libby Brown and Megan Milliron), sophomore Miranda Julian and freshman Jenna Santini. Milliron led the Mountaineers with a 53-60 - 113.

"If each girl improved their score by five to seven strokes, I knew we would have a legitimate chance of winning," said Johnson. "All year I thought we would have a chance."

One member of the Emeralds who did play well was senior Rachel Ryan, who earned medalist honors with a 105 (52-53). "She has been here four years and has been steady," said Taylor.

Ryan credits her father, Manistique athletic director Rob Ryan (one of the better men's golfers in the Upper Peninsula), for getting into position to take the top spot.

"He never pushed me to play, but he definitely encouraged me to play," she said. "I learned everything I know from him."

Ryan kept pushing forward throughout her round, which helped her maintain poise when she had some poor shots. "I try not to get upset; that would never help," she said. "I try to stay pretty mentally stable. I try to stay calm and collected."

That solid thought process also came in handy when she began to rely on her "go-to" 3-wood for many tee shots. "I started making safer choices," she said of declining to hit driver.

She had problems putting, agreeing the greens were notably slower than at her home course, Manistique Indian Lake, which is known for its slippery putting surfaces. Faced with the slower greens, she said, "I stood over the ball and told myself to hit it to the back of the hole.

"I knew if I played my best I would have a chance (to medal). I just tried to relax and have fun. This is my last one ever (as a high school golfer)."

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PHOTOS: (Top) Rachel Ryan of Manistique watches her tee shot on No. 4 on Thursday at Norway's Oak Crest Golf Club during the Upper Peninsula Division 2 golf tournament. Ryan was medalist with a 105. (Middle) Iron Mountain won the team championship; the team includes, from left, coach Bucky Johnson, Libby Brown, Miranda Julian, Lexi Verrette, Jana Santini and Megan Milliron. (Photos by Denny 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 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.)