As League Rivals Rise, Sturgis Works to Continue Setting Championship Pace
By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com
September 16, 2022
At a certain point, the competition catches up. And that’s where the Sturgis High School varsity girls golf program — the winningest team at the school over the last decade — finds itself in 2022.
A young squad without a senior on the roster is slugging it out this fall in a Wolverine Conference that now boasts plenty of parity. But with five league titles over the last eight years, the Trojans also can appreciate being in pursuit of the crown instead of being chased.
“We know that we’re kind of on a two-year plan here to get some good things done,” Sturgis coach Ken Schau said. “Trust me, when I say two-year plan, there’s no such thing as ‘We’ll be back next year.’ No way. It’s about right now.”
When Schau took over 11 years ago, winning a conference championship wasn’t even on the first page of the to-do list. The program had stalled out and numbers were down to the point when filling out a junior varsity roster was one of the biggest chores.
Teaching at Sturgis Middle School, Schau began evangelizing for the game. Numbers improved. Scores went from respectable to impressive. The Trojans started winning league titles, claimed a Regional championship and earned MHSAA Finals berths — four over the past 10 years. Golfers like Courtney O’Brien (Spring Arbor University) and Rachel Webb (Olivet College) furthered their careers at the college level.
A tradition was formed, and today’s crop of players at Sturgis hold dear their roles in continuing that legacy.
“As far as where we are now, you can’t even compare it to Year 1,” Schau said. “We’re trying to maintain what we’re doing and go from there. It’s all a numbers game in my mind. Who’s coming up in the eighth grade? I’ve always got my eye on talent coming in. Build numbers first and have that quality get a little bit better. That’s what happened. The motivation is different after that. Now you have girls that are motivated to keep things going.”
Schau’s middle school students learn about the Trojans’ success on the course whether they want to or not. Banners are hung in the classroom, and Schau is happy to talk golf whenever there’s an opening to do so.
“There have been girls that have come through the program that the only reason they played was because I was fortunate enough to have them in class and I talked them into it,” he said. “I started talking to Courtney O’Brien in my media class, and she ends up playing. Rachel Webb was kind of the same. It wasn’t until eighth grade that she started showing some interest. I do my best to recognize golfers out there.”
This fall, it starts with captains Maddy Webb (sophomore) and Citori Kosmerick (junior), who continue to chip away at their nine-hole averages, which included a 46 for Webb and a 48 for Kosmerick at the fifth conference jamboree at Sauganash Golf Club in Three Rivers. Sturgis ended the day with a team score of 195, which was good for third place behind Plainwell (188) and Vicksburg (189).
“For (Webb and Kosmerick), their course management is starting to get a lot better,” Schau said. “You have to bulletproof your game. If you’re a girl around the 40s, make your bad round a 48 instead of a 55. They have done a really good job of understanding the strengths of their game. They understand when it’s go time, when we have to go for this flag here and we can’t mess around and lay up. They are just getting better and better.”
“I had a lot of lessons,” Webb said of her offseason work. “I bumped up to first seed, which puts a lot of pressure on me, but I feel like I do good with pressure. My teammates definitely help me a lot. I want to shoot in the high 30s. I feel like I can get there.”
For Kosmerick, she climbed ahead of some upperclassmen last year and now finds herself in a leadership role.
“It made me a lot better because there was a lot more pressure than being the sixth seed (where she started last season),” Kosmerick said. “Our biggest goal is to take the pressure off (the underclassmen) in harder matches because we know how it was our first years.”
Otsego, Plainwell and Vicksburg have been tough to beat this season in the Wolverine, and the three squads have all shared the lead thus far. Sturgis continues to hover around fourth place, within striking distance if it can keep things rolling in the right direction.
“This is the best the Wolverine Conference has been,” Schau said. “It has been a lot of fun. The goal as we progress into the postseason is more consistency and better decision making,” Schau said. Course management is huge. Even though we have some juniors, we still make some kid mistakes, so to speak. This is when we really start gearing up.”
A league outing Sept. 12 at Lake Cora in Paw Paw could be a good indication of the kind of production Sturgis is capable of down the stretch. The Trojans carded a score of 180, finishing second by a stroke to Vicksburg. It was the fifth-best score in school history with four players finishing in the 40s, including Webb’s career-best 41.
In the third spot is junior Aspen Hyska, who fired a career-best 44 at Lake Cora. Classmate Hannah Falkenstein plays as the fourth seed. Mia Martinez (sophomore) competes in the fifth slot, and freshman Piper Sterling is the Trojans’ six seed.
“Aspen Hyska worked very hard in the summertime, going from a mid-50s player to around 50,” Schau said. “Falkenstein is our little robot of the group. She hits the ball 150 yards of the tee and does it again and again. She chips and putts and throws up a 52 every time she steps on the course. Mia Martinez is another girl who did a great job over the summertime. There’s an athlete coming out in Mia. I did not know what was going to happen at the six seed and knew it was going to be an open competition. Our freshman (Sterling), a lefty, stepped up. She’s a nice surprise.”
The Trojans also claimed a victory at their inaugural Team Choice Invitational at Klinger Lake Country Club, beating out runner-up Portage Central by 14 strokes. Webb was medalist with a 94, and Kosmerick placed second one stroke back.
“It was nice for the girls to win their own Invitational,” Schau said. “Klinger Lake is always a tough course to play with very thick rough and fast greens. We like it though as we feel it makes us better later in the season."
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Sturgis’ Maddy Webb finds her putting line. (Middle) Citori Kosmerick sends an approach from the fairway. (Below) The Sturgis girls golf team, from left: Hannah Falkenstein, Piper Sterling, Mia Martinez, Aspen Hyska, Kosmerick and Webb. (Photos courtesy of the Sturgis girls golf program.)
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.
Sluss 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.
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.”
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 [email protected] 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.)