Mustangs Complete Championship Climb

October 15, 2016

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Macomb Lutheran North’s route to an MHSAA championship seemed like a simple 3, 2, 1 countdown.

The Mustangs, who finished third at the Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Division 4 tournament in 2014 and second last year, broke through with a 36-stroke victory over second-place Livonia Ladywood on Saturday at Forest Akers West in East Lansing.

But for veteran Lutheran North coach Lori Gill, the road to the title started much more than three years ago – last century, actually.

“This was 19 years in the making,” said an emotional Gill after leading Lutheran North to not only its first-ever girls golf championship, but also the first MHSAA girls golf title for any Macomb County school.

“You are looking at one happy, happy coach. This is a really special group of girls. They are fun, and they are committed.”

Lutheran North took command of the two-day event with a solid team effort on Friday, building up a 16-stroke lead, then came back with an even better team score Saturday to zap any potential drama out of the team competition. Kalamazoo Hackett, the two-time reigning champion, placed third.

Junior Serena Nguyen led three Mustangs among the top 10 individuals with back-to-back 79s, good for fourth overall on the long and challenging Forest Akers West course. Senior Sydney Martens (85-79-164) took sixth and sophomore Kaity Rittner (82-84-166) was eighth.

Lutheran North’s fourth counted score on each day was an 89 – from senior Madison Mohr on Friday and junior Grace Farquhar on Saturday – as the Mustangs were the only team in the field to not count a score in the 90s or higher either of the two days.

 “The best part is that it was a total team effort, and we all came through for our coach,” said Martens while cradling the championship trophy in her arms. “Each year we were getting closer and closer. It’s just so nice that we took that final step.”

The battle for individual medalist honors was closer than the team competition, but the experience – and power – of senior individual qualifier Nichole Cox of Maple City Glen Lake was too much for the rest of the field.

Cox capped off a stellar four-year career by winning her third consecutive Finals medalist honor, to go along with a fourth-place finish as a freshman. Cox fired an even-par 72 in Friday’s opening round and overcame a couple of bad holes on Saturday to finish with a 78 for a two-day total of 150 and a four-shot edge.

Frankenmuth senior Megan Watkins and Kalamazoo Hackett senior Naomi Keyte shot identical rounds of 78-76-154 to tie for second in the individual competition.

“I hit my driver great both days – almost all of them were straight with a little draw,” said Cox, who blasted a 280-yard drive on Saturday on the 407-yard, par-5 second hole. “I’m proud of myself because I had two double-bogeys today, but I hung in there.”

Cox, who will play golf at Bowling Green, had three birdies in Friday’s opening round and none on Saturday. She shook off a four-putt, double-bogey on No. 5, her second hole Saturday morning, then started racking up pars en route to her “three-peat.” She became only the ninth girl in MHSAA history to win at least three Finals individual championships.

The closest pursuer to Lutheran North in the team race turned out to be Livonia Ladywood, which improved on its fourth-place Finals finish one year ago. The Blazers captured the second-place trophy behind the big three of junior Gabriella Scopone (83-83-166), who placed ninth, senior Lydia Cranmer (86-81-167), who was 10th, and senior Jordyn Rioux (85-87-172).

But this was Lutheran North’s time for a title.

Martens, the senior leader for the Mustangs who will play golf at Oakland University next year, said the team talked about staying aggressive in spite of its 16-stroke lead after Friday’s opening round.

“Sixteen strokes sounds like a lot, but it’s only four strokes for each girl,” said Martens, whose older sister, Samantha Martens, was also a standout for Gill at Lutheran North. “We are a long-hitting team, and we wanted to keep playing our game and try to extend the lead.”

Gill, whose team was playing in the Finals for the sixth straight year, said another key to the Mustangs’ terrific run over the past three has been playing top-flight competition from Division 1 and other larger schools throughout the regular season. Lutheran North made a statement way back in August by winning the 15-school Flint Powers Invitational, then provided the other bookend to its spectacular season Saturday with a 36-stroke runaway.

“We got a taste of that top three (the last two years) and then winning the title became an obsession,” said Gill. “The girls knew what they wanted to do and they did it. What can I say? They are an amazing group of girls and an amazing group of golfers.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Macomb Lutheran North’s Serena Nguyen fires out of a bunker during Saturday’s final round of the Division 3 Final. (Middle) Maple City Glen Lake’s Nichole Cox holes a putt en route to her third straight individual title. (Click to see more from

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 [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.)