Jenison Will Smile: 'That's What Syd Would Want'

August 21, 2019

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

JENISON – The Jenison girls golf team is playing with heavy hearts this season.

Teammates and coaches are mourning the loss of the Wildcats’ No. 1 player, Sydney Carfine, who would have been a senior this fall.

The 17-year-old Carfine was tragically killed on the night of June 14 in a two-car crash in Ottawa County.

“It was like disbelief, like this can’t be real,” Jenison girls golf coach Linda Reimink said. “I was up north, and I knew that I had to get home and get together with our team. It was very emotional and just devastating for everyone.”

Carfine’s death shook the Jenison community and took its toll on her teammates, who had to deal with the loss of their fun-loving, outgoing and talented teammate.

“It was definitely hard for all of us, and the day after we got together to see each other and talk about it,” senior Amanda Smaby said. “I think as a team we’ve come together more because of it because we all loved Syd, and it’s making our season more meaningful.

“We’re looking at it as inspiration instead of keeping us from having a great season because that’s what Syd would want. Just to enjoy golf because she made it fun and she loved golf.”

Carfine was expected to be a leader on this year’s squad, and was looking forward to her final year of high school.

“She sent a long text to the team at the end of the school year how this was going to be our year and how she wanted to do sweatshirts with last names, and we’re going to carry through on that,” Reimink said. “We also have smiley faces on our shirts in honor of Syd because that was her motto: ‘Just smile.’”

While Carfine’s unexpected death has been hard to comprehend, senior Sophie Hoekstra said she thinks of her often on the course.

“One way I cope with it is I just remember that she is watching over me,” she said. “When I make a bad putt, she’s up there laughing at me, and when I have a good shot I say in my head, ‘At least you were here to see it.’

“It’s not too different because I know that she’s still here, but at the same time it’s really different because we don’t get to see her smile or get our hugs anymore. She was always so positive and always made friends with everyone she was with.” 

Carfine began playing golf at a young age. Her mother, Jennifer, golfed at Michigan State University, and her late grandfather, Mike Mieras, was a PGA Professional at Hidden Valley Golf Course.

Carfine was a dedicated student of the game and worked hard to improve in all aspects.

She made the varsity team as a freshman at Byron Center and helped the Bulldogs reach the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final.

Carfine moved and transferred to Jenison, where she emerged as one of the top players on the team and in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black the past two seasons.

Despite her prowess on the golf course, Reimink said Carfine kept her sport in perspective and was dedicated to success in the classroom as well.

“She was really competitive, and when she got on the golf course she was competing, but also giggling about boys or something going on in school,” Reimink said. “It wasn’t all business, and she was way more than a golfer. She really cared about how well she did in school. When she had a freak out moment, it wasn’t about golf – it was about school. She was really committed and worked hard on her studies. She was very creative with her writing and art.”

Reimink said the team is doing its best to cope, but Carfine’s absence at practices has been noticeable.

“I think all the girls internally have handled it differently, but Amanda and Sydney always had individual competitions and that competitive nature against someone on the team she is going to miss big time,” Reimink said. “I feel like in practices, (Sydney) was really focused on her game, and we’re going to miss that. She was such a competitor and had big hopes for a really good year.”

Smaby said Carfine brought out the best in her and her teammates.

“It’s definitely a different environment now without her because she always added so much and was the leader of our team,” she said. “She always gave us a passion to want to do better, and she would make practices fun.

“She was the one we could talk to about anything. She made jokes and made everything a little lighter mood. It’s sad to think about, but the impact she made on our team and our program was just incredible.”

After struggling through back issues as a sophomore, Carfine qualified as an individual for the Division 1 Final last season and had aspirations to play golf in college.

“Her junior year, that was her number one goal,” Reimink said. “To get back to state.”

Carfine was honored last week during play at the annual Jenison Invitational. It was renamed as the Sydney Carfine Memorial Tournament.

There will be a moment of silence for Carfine at the Wildcats’ home football game Sept. 6.

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Jenison’s Sydney Carfine would have been a senior this fall. (Middle) The Jenison girls golf team stands together last season, including Carfine, far left. (Photos courtesy of the Jenison girls golf program.)

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.)