By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
EAST LANSING – Every high school golf coach reminds his or her team that “every stroke counts.”
The exception is Rochester girls golf coach Jeff Haney, because his team has learned that lesson first-hand over the past three seasons.
Rochester missed out on making it to the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Division 1 Final by four strokes in 2013, then by two strokes in 2014 and, last year, the Falcons lost out to Traverse City West for the championship on a fifth-player score tie-breaker.
That cumulative heartbreak fueled plenty of extra desire this fall for Rochester, which certainly made every stroke count in a 21-shot victory over Novi for the Division 1 title Saturday at windswept Forest Akers East in East Lansing.
“Oh yes, because of what’s happened the past few years, it’s very easy for me to get their attention on the importance of every single shot,” said Haney, who guided the Falcons to their third Finals championship in the past nine years, and fourth overall. “These girls have all shaved strokes off their average from the start of the year, which is why we were able to win it.”
Rochester registered the lowest team scores in the 18-team field on both Friday (310) and Saturday (308), for a 618 total. Novi was second at 639, followed by Bloomfield Hills (648), 2015 champion Traverse City West (652) and Saline (661).
The Falcons were paced by senior standout and fifth-place individual Brooke Busse (73-75-148), but the real secret to their success was depth. Exhibit A was the Falcons’ fifth golfer, junior Keri Yang (83-83-166), whose total was 15 shots better than any other team’s No. 5 player.
Senior Veronica Haque (75-75-150) placed eighth overall and was followed closely by her freshman sister, Savannah Haque (79-79-158), and senior Erica Yang (84-79-163).
“I’m just very relieved that it’s over and that we did it,” said Busse, who was part of all three years of Finals-related heartbreak for the Falcons. “We knew we could do it, and we were really focused on staying positive. A big key is that we putted better (Saturday), and that’s why we shaved a few strokes off our total from the first day.”
Rochester actually extended its lead in Saturday’s final round, just the opposite of last year when unranked Traverse City West charged from five strokes back to tie for the top spot, eventually winning on the tie-breaker. Since neither Rochester nor Traverse City West had a senior in their lineup last fall, the stage was set for a rematch.
While the lower half of the West lineup struggled, sophomore Anika Dy certainly did her part for the Titans.
Dy, who placed second last year as a freshman, finished 1-under par with rounds of 72 and 71 for a 143 total, two shots better than Clarkston senior Meghan Deardorff (74-71-145) and Bloomfield Hills sophomore Mikaela Schulz (72-73-145).
Novi senior Alexa Hatz (147) shot a sizzling 3-under par 69 on Saturday – the best round of the tournament – which moved her up to fourth overall and powered her team to a surprising second-place overall finish. Also placing in the top 10 for the Wildcats was junior Abby Livingston, who shot 151 and tied for ninth.
Other individuals in the top 10 were Grand Blanc senior Cammi Lucia (149) and Ann Arbor Skyline senior Jami Laude (149), who tied for sixth, and Lake Orion senior Moyea Russell (151) and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior Lauren Ingle (151), who tied for ninth.
But the story of the weekend was the continued surge by Rochester, which just one week ago set the state girls golf record for postseason scoring with a 289 total at Twin Lakes Golf Course in Oakland Township.
That Regional performance was an incredible achievement for a Rochester program that has had plenty of highlights in recent years. The Falcons have finished in the top 10 at the Finals 16 times over the past 21 years, with four MHSAA titles (the others coming in 2002, 2008 and 2009) and three runner-up finishes (2005, 2007 and 2015).
Haney said it was huge to validate that Regional performance by staying hot and winning the program’s first Finals title in seven years.
“It’s a big relief to tell you the truth,” said Haney, whose team was able to handle the increasing winds on Saturday, which were more of a factor on the more open East course than Forest Akers West. “There are some great teams and great individuals in Division 1 that we battle with all the time. This team definitely earned it.”
PHOTO: (Top) Rochester's Veronica Haque putts during Saturday's second round at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final. (Middle) Traverse City West's Anika Dy watches a drive during her round; she finished as individual medalist. (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.)