For Love of Game, Hudsonville Ace Plays Thru Injury to Finish Season at Finals

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

October 20, 2021

HUDSONVILLE – Ella Thomasma’s love of the game was worth the pain. 

The Hudsonville junior persevered through a serious knee injury to finish her season among the best golfers in the state. 

Thomasma competed at this past weekend’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals as an individual qualifier and placed 47th overall. She carded rounds of 89 and 90 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State for a two-day total of 179.

And Thomasma made the field, and then played those back-to-back 18-hole rounds, with a torn right knee ligament suffered six months ago.

“It was so rewarding to finish the season, and it’s pretty cool to be able to say I made it the entire way,” Thomasma said. “No one would probably do what I did, that would be my guess, but I just love golf and I didn’t want to miss my junior year.”

Thomasma suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in March during high school soccer tryouts and was done for the rest of that season.

Doctors encouraged Thomasma to have surgery, but she opted out due to her desire to play golf this fall.

“The doctor told me I should do it when the injury happened, but I told him that I couldn’t do that,” Thomasma said. “I had to wait until golf season was done because I knew I wanted to play golf.”

Hudsonville girls golf coach Joe DeSmit knew Thomasma was committed to playing despite the injury.

“When it happened, she said she wasn’t getting surgery until after the season so she knew right away she was going to try and go as long as she could,” he said. “She even went out West with Young Life and had to do hikes. We talked about getting a medical clearance to use a cart, but she didn’t want any part of it.”

Hudsonville golfThomasma emerged as the Eagles’ top golfer this fall despite the overwhelming pain she experienced often.

“It’s been pretty bad, and it hurts all the time, but I wasn’t going to stop golfing,” Thomasma said. “I think walking was the hardest part for me. It wasn’t hitting the ball, it was walking all the courses – and some of them were tough to walk. It just made it tougher.”

Thomasma wore a brace on the knee to alleviate some of the pain. 

“When I was swinging (the club), it was fine, but I would hit my shot and then be like, ‘Dang, I have to walk to the next shot now,’” Thomasma said. “It was tough, but I did it.”

DeSmit was proud of Thomasma for her grit and determination.

“I just think it’s awesome what she did this year, and she’s just a grinder,” he said. “I could tear up about it because she just gutted it out all year. 

“It’s a testament to her for grinding through it and putting her team ahead of herself and saying that she was going to play to help the team.”

Hudsonville competed at the Regional earlier this month at Crystal Mountain and finished fifth as a team. The top three teams from Regionals advance to Finals.

Thomasma, however, qualified as an individual after firing a 92 to tie for ninth – and earn the third of three qualifying spots for golfers whose teams do not advance as a whole.

“I knew if I was going to wait to have surgery, I wanted to make it as far as I possibly could and I did it,” Thomasma said. “The conditions at the state finals were tough, but I didn’t play awful so I’m not complaining. I wish I would’ve played better, but I didn’t end up too bad.”

Thomasma received a special honor at the end of the season.

“She was given the Eagle Award, which is given to an athlete that you want to replicate (from) our program,” DeSmit said. “Not many kids would do that, and she’s just tough.”

Thomasma, who said her meniscus was probably torn as well because of the delay, was scheduled to have surgery this week.

Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for four years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) Hudsonville’s Ella Thomasma sends a drive during Saturday’s second round at The Meadows. (Middle) Thomasma, playing the Finals with a torn ACL, puts a putt close to the cup. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)