In Just 5th Season, Montague Finishes #1

October 17, 2020

By Tom Lang
Special for Second Half

Montague pulled off an amazing feat Saturday at Forest Akers West by winning its first MHSAA Finals team championship in just the fifth year of the program’s existence. 

The Wildcats scored 343 at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 tournament to set a new school record, besting Lansing Catholic at 370. All five Montague players finished among the top 16 individuals, with junior Orianna Bylsma leading with a top-five finish at 81, and senior Megan Brown coming in 8th with 84.

“My mind is racing,” said head coach Phil Kerr. “I’m just so happy for the girls. They earned this. We thought we could do this; we brought four players back from last year. We wanted to win a county championship, win the Regionals, and then just see what happened at states. It’s unbelievable.”

The team finished fourth at the Final last year in its first-ever two-round tournament. Kerr said in 2019 the Wildcats played much better on the second day, which elevated the team into the top five. So, there was some nervousness coming into the tournament this year knowing it would be reduced to one 18-hole round, not the traditional 36 holes over two days. The cutback was due to COVID-19 protocols for distancing and to allow teams to make one day trip instead of needing to stay overnight.

“It’s definitely different, and there’s more urgency for sure,” Kerr said about the reduction to 18 holes. “Getting off to a good start is huge. There’s no time to make up for it. We really focused on, how do we come out, where do we stand after the first three or four holes, and make sure we take care of that.”

Jump out they did.

The Wildcats were ahead by as many as 15-20 strokes very early in the day before sealing the win by the large margin over Lansing Catholic, Michigan Center (371) and 2019 champ Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (372).

“On the front nine you never know, something can always happen,” Kerr said about building the original lead. “I think we got comfortable toward the back of the front nine and we relaxed a little bit, but we still shot an amazing score.

“I’m really happy for our seniors, Megan Brown and Katie Unger (tied for 12th). Megan’s been on varsity since she was a freshman. I think she shot 145 at the Regionals that first year, and just shot 84 today to help set our school record and (win) a state championship. Just a credit to hard work. Special kids who love grinding and working hard. I hope they see the rest of their lives if they put their heart and soul into something, they’ll see the results like this.”

Junior Kamryn Shannon of Michigan Center was medalist at 2-over 74, just ahead of Jacquelyn O’Neill of Harbor Springs at 75. Shannon had a troubling day at Regionals scoring an 87, but turned it around for the Final. She admitted the 87 rattled her a little heading into the season’s final event.

“I’ve been working on my driver a lot recently, and today I was hitting almost every fairway, and if not I was just off on the edge,” Shannon said after accepting her first-place medal. “My putting was pretty good today also.”

Shannon said she finished outside the top 30 last year as a sophomore with scores in the 90s.

“I got new clubs and immediately my average started dropping,” she said about getting properly fitted. “I’m super proud all of my hard work paid off in the long run.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Montague’s Orianna Bylsma sends an approach from the 16th fairway during Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final. (Middle) Michigan Center’s Kamryn Shannon holds up her first-place medal. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.) 

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.)