By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The hardest-working athlete Dan Young has coached stuck around long after practices ended, perfecting shots often by the light of nearby street lamps.
The player was motivated by the chance to win the school’s first girls championship, and an individual title too after falling just short of both the year before.
It sounds like a scene out of a high school basketball movie, and Young has coached that sport at the prep and collegiate levels for 20 years.
But this fall he coached girls golf for the first time, and from senior Kelsey Murphy saw a drive like he’d never seen from one of his athletes before.
Motivated by just-misses from the season before, Murphy willed Plymouth to its first MHSAA team championship in any girls sport and claimed the individual title as well Oct. 19-20 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East.
“That means a lot, coming from him,” Murphy said. “Our team really made the push this year.
“My main goal for my season was to win the team championship. Winning the individual with this was just a little extra. … It was a nice extra.”
And an extra-nice comeback story.
Murphy gets a Second Half High 5 after making good on her hard work heading into this fall, and sticking it out when tough weather and tough putting threatened that individual opportunity again.
She shot a first-round 73 at the Final to lead by a stroke with one round left in her high school career. But Murphy started the second 18 with five bogeys – and it was hard to not consider the 2011 Final, when Murphy led with four holes to play before finishing third.
Meanwhile, her team led by seven strokes, a nice advantage but hardly comfortable.
“It was mainly putting, and I just went back to the basics. (I learned in 2011) to always make sure you finish the round; any stroke will matter,” Murphy said. “I didn’t used to finish out. I’d give up some strokes at the end. It’s just telling yourself to focus on the next shot. You have to hit every shot.”
Murphy fought back with two birdies during her final nine holes, and finished with a second-round 75 and a two-day 178 – good for the individual win by a stroke. And her Wildcats cut their collective score by three from the first day to win the team championship by 11.
Young told his players the night before the tournament’s start that they deserved to win because of the work they’d put into this season. And at the front of that effort was Murphy.
“I’ve never had somebody who works harder than this girl,” Young said. “We’d get to the range at 2:45 and leave at 6 o’clock, and she’d be there until 7 o’clock every single night. It would be dark, and she’d be using street lights to putt and chip.
“She was grinding it out, not leaving any stone unturned. And the thing about it is all the other girls felt they needed to stay too.”
Murphy averaged 36 strokes for nine-hole matches this fall and 74 for 18-hole events. Her second-most impressive win might have been Aug. 23 at the Highland Invitational at Heather Highlands Golf Club, where she shot a 69 to finish ahead of a strong field. Murphy also shot a 74 to win the Regional at Ypsilanti’s Pine View Golf Course by four strokes as her team won that title by 19.
Keep in mind that Murphy is a relative newcomer to the sport. She’s been playing for a little more than five years, picking up the clubs for the first time after a dislocated knee ended her swimming aspirations.
But with younger sister Sydney in tow – the sophomore shot a 173 at the Final – and their grandmother Emma showing them the ropes, Kelsey picked up her new sport quickly. She’s always been a long hitter and drives the ball 240 yards consistently. Her work on pitching has paid off over the last year, and next up is a focus on longer approaches.
The last 10 days have been a lot of fun for the Wildcats, who have continued to hang out together and were recognized during the football team’s playoff game Friday. Murphy will sign to continue her career at Eastern Michigan University and is among favorites to win the statewide Miss Golf award later this month.
That would be another "nice extra" touch to a finish she'll remember most because of how she ended it.
“I was able to keep my game and get it back on track. It’s the lasting impression, to show I can get my game back,” Murphy said. “I knew through other rounds I could do it. But it was just getting back mentally on track and doing it and being able to come through.”
PHOTO: Plymouth's Kelsey Murphy prepares to tee off during the second round of this month's MHSAA Division 1 Final at Forest Akers East. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com).
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 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.)