Iron Mountain Sends Coach Out with Win

May 30, 2014

By Burt Angeli
Special to Second Half 

IRON RIVER — Iron Mountain’s girls gave their coach a nice parting gift Thursday in the MHSAA U.P. Division 2 Golf Final at George Young Recreational Complex. 

The Mountaineers of Coach Donny Bianco, shooting 444, successfully defended their U.P. title, topping Ishpeming Westwood, 482, and West Iron County, 513, in the limited girls field.

“It was nice to go out on top in my last year,” said Bianco, who will leave coaching to become the elementary school principal. “This is such a nice group of girls that played hard and got better every week, and that’s what it’s all about. 

“It’s really enjoyable. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls.”

Cassie Feira, U.P. runner-up medalist last year, led the Mountaineers with a 104. That score was good for third behind medalist Margo Brown of St. Ignace, 98, and Alyssa Norback of L’Anse, at 102. 

Westwood’s Lauren Farley, at 105, and Iron Mountain’s Kathryn Brown, 106, completed the top five.

“We had no real big surprises,” Bianco said of his Mountaineers. “Our number one Cassie has been shooting well all year, and she shot around her average. 

“Catherine Brown played a little better than her average.”

Lexi Verrette and Libby Brown completed Iron Mountain’s championship lineup. The Mountaineers’ next coach will find the lineup intact with three juniors in Feira, Pirkola and Kathryn Brown and two freshmen in Verrette and Libby Brown.

Margo Brown, who helped the Saints reach the Class C Basketball Final, fired a 51 over the front nine and 47 on the back.

“I guess I played good enough,” said Brown, U.P. Division 3 medalist last year and Division 2 runner-up two years ago. “I just wish I had played a little better. 

“Yesterday I had a good practice round, and today wasn’t my best game at all.” 

The junior birdied the 357-yard fourth hole.

“I chipped pretty well and my driver was pretty good,” Brown said.

Norback, playing in the same group with Brown and Feira, registered 50-52 for runner-up medalist. The senior, one shot out of a medal playoff last year, parred the 357-yard fifth hole at George Young. 

Brown and others cited the course conditions and sunny weather. The rough winter appeared to only affect a couple areas.

“The course is in really nice shape, and I was surprised,” Brown said. “We came here a couple weeks ago and it was snowing. 

“I was really happy with the course conditions. The greens are very nice and pretty receptive.”

Noted tournament director Mike Berutti, coordinating his first U.P. golf tourney: “It was a great day for golf.” 

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PHOTOS: (Top) L'Anse's Alyssa Norback tees off during Thursday's U.P. Division 2 Final. (Middle) Iron Mountain’s Marti Pirkola looks over a putt by Ishpeming Westwood’s Lauren Farley. (Photos by Burt Angeli.)

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.)