Longtime Coach Has Marshall Aiming High

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

October 15, 2019

MARSHALL — When Dick Hamilton signed on to coach the Marshall girls golf team, never in his wildest dreams did he think he would still be doing so 40 years later.

“I’m just glad to be alive 40 years later,” he said, laughing.

He is not only alive, but thriving on working with what he calls “close to the best team I’ve had.”

After winning the Division 3 Regional on Oct. 7 at Niles, the Redhawks are headed to the MHSAA Final this Friday and Saturday at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University.

It will be the 29th time Hamilton’s teams will have competed at the Finals level and, with five seniors, he hopes this is the year to win the previously elusive championship.

Third place is the highest his teams have finished. These Redhawks are ranked third in Division 3 and finished eighth last year.

The team is led by four-year varsity golfer Karlee Malone, who was Regional medalist with an 83 at Orchard Hills Country Club.

Big changes

High school golf has come a long way since Hamilton began coaching.

“When I started, there was one division and everybody was in the same division,” Hamilton said. “Ironically, my first year, we hosted the state championship at Marshall High School.

“Our AD said, ‘You run it.’ It had to be the worst-run state championship in history. I was a rookie and everybody was coming in with these powerhouse teams.”

The Redhawks actually qualified for that year’s championship tournament and ended up eighth.

While the game, itself, has not changed much over the years, the coaching and the golfers have, Hamilton said.

The Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association pushed for more divisions, and today the MHSAA has four divisions for golf in the Lower Peninsula.

“There are a lot more good players now,” Hamilton said. “When I started, we were in the spring and we would just go play and that was it.

“The season would be over. They wouldn’t work on it. They wouldn’t play.”

Now, he said, his golfers play all summer, especially Golf Association of Michigan events.

“When I started, girls were players if their dads were (golfers),” Hamilton said. “Now, out of the girls on my golf team, maybe one or two of their dads are players.

“It’s a game where they get into it, they take lessons, they go to First Tee, they go to Foundation Golf Center, they have private swing coaches and that makes a difference.”

Having the best equipment also is a plus. Hamilton had that advantage when he was growing up in the Thumb.

“My dad was a good player, and my grandfather was a good player,” he said.

“My grandfather owned the local hardware store, so I got a set of golf clubs the day I went to play golf (at age 6 or 7). Not every kid in town had that.”

Another change in high school golf was the uniforms.

When he started coaching, the girls team had no specific uniforms.

“When I started in 1980-81, I said this is a team; we’ve got to have a uniform,” he said.

“They looked at me like I was crazy. The AD bought into that, and I think that helped.”

While Hamilton did not coach any mothers of his current golfers, he did have his own two daughters on his team.

“They were basketball players who played golf when the season came on, but in those days, it was in the spring,” he said.

“They live in New York now and don’t play much anymore.”

Over the years, Hamilton has thought about giving up the position, especially once he retired from teaching history at the high school.

“Every time I had a really good team, I’d say ‘Well, I don’t want to give up this really good team,’” he said.

“A couple of times we’ve had rebuilding years, and I didn’t want to give that to anybody else so it just kind of kept going.”

Full speed ahead

These current golfers are happy he kept going.

In addition to the Regional title, the Redhawks won the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference (going undefeated) this fall, plus the conference tournament and four invitationals.

“He meets the needs of every individual player,” Malone said. “He is willing to take you aside individually and work with you.

“Golf is not only a team sport, but an individual sport, so he helps us with that aspect. But he also brings us together as a team and sets goals for us that we’re able to meet.”

After tying for fifth individually at the Division 3 Final last year, Malone said she feels a bit of pressure this season.

“I’ve been dealing with that all throughout the season,” she said. “I wanted to have an even better season than last year, so rising to those expectations has been an extra challenge.”

Marie Mathieu, another four-year varsity golfer, said with all seniors on the team, there is an advantage.

“We’ve all played together for so long that we know how to help everyone and give everyone confidence,” she said.

Another four-year varsity golfer is Emily McLane, who appreciates the coach’s sense of humor.

“He’s very encouraging, and he’s funny,” she said. “He cracks some jokes once in a while. 

“Our practices are really structured. We work on chipping, we work at the range, we work at putting all the time so when we get on the course, we know what to do.”

The other two seniors are Malena Solis and Katie Kolassa. Assistant coach is Sal Konkle, who also led the Marshall girls basketball team to the Class B championship in 2016.

The Redhawks’ home course is Marshall Country Club, where Hamilton has been a member for 50 years.

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at pamkzoo@aol.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Marshall girls golf coach Dick Hamilton talks with his team before last week’s Regional. (Middle) Clockwise from top left: Hamilton, Karlee Malone, Emily McLane and Marie Mathieu. (Below) Hamilton will take a team to the MHSAA Girls Golf Finals for the 29th time over his four decades as coach. (Photos by Pam Shebest.)

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.)