Low-Scoring Lineup Fuels Huskies' Run

October 18, 2017

By Dean Holzwarth
Second Half editor

GRAND RAPIDS – Team depth in any sport can be an important factor in making a strong postseason run.

The Forest Hills Northern girls golf team possesses just that this fall, and the hope is an abundance of contributors help carry it to a lofty finish at this weekend’s MHSAA Finals.

The No. 2-ranked Huskies will compete in Division 2 at Bedford Valley Golf Course in Battle Creek after placing runner-up at last week’s Regional.

“Now that we have this balance, if you do have a bad day, our team can still win,” said Forest Hills Northern junior Kay Zubkus, the team’s No. 1 player. “That ultimately makes all of us perform better because there isn’t that added pressure. It’s fantastic.”

The Huskies have a mix of veterans and young talent.

Zubkus is joined by senior co-captains Maddie Goodrich and Chloe Johnson, as well as senior Gabby Mas.

Freshmen Lilia Henkel and Anna Fay round out the top six.

Forest Hills Northern’s depth was apparent throughout the season as it won the Ottawa-Kent Conference White championship with all six girls being selected to the all-conference team.

“Our depth has been a strength for us all season,” Huskies coach Kent Graves said. “We were one of only two teams at Regionals to have five girls shoot under 90, and it takes a lot of the load off our No. 1 and No. 2 because if they don’t have great days they have three or four really good scores behind them.”

Forest Hills Northern entered the season with high expectations. It finished sixth at last year’s Division 2 Finals and graduated only one senior.

That created excitement for the potential of this year’s group.

“We were really anxious for this year,” Graves said. “We had the entire team back from last year minus one girl, and then we had two really super freshmen come in. We were excited about that, and our goal at the beginning of the year was a top-3 finish.”

The freshmen have played pivotal roles in the Huskies’ success.

Henkel was projected to be among the top players, but a pleasant surprise has been the improved play of Fay.

“I knew Lilia was good because I had played with her in tournaments, but we didn’t know about Anna and she has grown so much over this short season,” Zubkus said. “She came in shooting high 90s and now she is averaging high 80s, which is fantastic. We know we can rely on her, and their talent is awesome because it is going to help build the team for the next few years.”

Added Goodrich: “I knew Lilia was amazing, but Anna has really surprised me and has done super well. I’ve been impressed by her, and she has been solid the whole way through.”

Despite the range in classes, this year’s group has a tight bond.

“We’ve done a lot to become closer as a team and it’s been fun, especially since this is my senior year,” Goodrich said. “We’ve been so successful and gone to big tournaments and done well. We’ve been able to grow together as a team.”

The Huskies are aiming to end their season on a high note and improve on last year’s results.

Zubkus said the team’s dedication has put them in that position.

“A lot of hard work has been put in this year to get us where we are,” she said. “We are practicing six days a week to get us where we want to be to achieve our goals, which ultimately is winning a state championship.”

Forest Hills Northern will be among the favorites as it attempts to dethrone reigning champion and top-ranked Midland Dow.

“It’s going to take two days of really solid golf and we have to be at the top of our game, because 17 other teams want it just as bad as we do and will be shooting to win the thing also,” Graves said. “It’s two days of five girls playing the best they can play, and this tournament will be won with the third through fifth spot because at the state level everyone has really good (Nos.) 1 and 2 players.”

“We know we are capable of winning and everyone is going to have to play their best golf,” Zubkus added. “We have a very competitive division, and there is going to be no room for mis-strokes.”

The weather shouldn’t have an effect on the field, much to the liking of Graves.

“This is my 10th year and it will be the first time I’ve coached a state tournament not wearing my long underwear,” Graves joked. “I will be out there in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt.”

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 and WOODTV. Contact him at dream100@comcast.net with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) This season's Forest Hills Northern girls golf team, from left: Olivia Moran, Chloe Johnson, Kay Zubkus, Lisa Reynolds, Gabby Mas, Lilia Henkel, Anna Fay, Maddie Goodrich, Coach Kent Graves. (Middle) The Huskies stand with their O-K White championship trophy. (Top photo by Jim Hill Photo; bottom by Kathy Goodrich.)

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.)