ALLENDALE -- The Northville girls golf team suffered a rare loss to Plymouth at last week’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Regional.
But it provided the Mustangs with ample motivation to turn the tables on their closest challenger and extend a historic run.
Northville won its fourth straight MHSAA Finals on Saturday by completing a two-day total of 615 strokes at Grand Valley State’s The Meadows.
Plymouth placed runner-up, 12 strokes back, while Okemos (650) took third.
Plymouth senior Bridget Boczar captured the individual medalist honor after a final-round 3-under-par 69 gave her a one-stroke win over her twin sister, Grace Boczar.
“I think, if anything, losing Regionals to Plymouth really motivated us to play better at states and helped us prepare more versus winning Regionals and coming into the first (seed),” Northville senior Haesol Park said. “I wasn’t part of the first (Finals championship), but it’s really been an amazing experience. It’s just amazing to be part of a team and not just individually winning. Just the whole team contributing to win one big award. It’s unreal.”
Another senior standout, Megha Vallabhaneni, led the Mustangs with a pair of stellar rounds.
She carded a 75 on Friday, and added a final-round 1-under-par 71 to place third overall.
“It’s obviously an awesome feeling, but there was a lot of pressure going into it with already winning three (in a row),” Vallabhaneni said. “Losing to Plymouth did affect us, but we knew we were going to do well and we played one stroke at a time and one hole at a time.”
Also contributing for Northville were junior Samantha Coleman (154), senior Meghana Lanka (162) and junior Avi Gill.
The Mustangs became the eighth school in MHSAA history, and second in the Lower Peninsula, to win four straight Finals, and also the first to do so in Division 1.
“Obviously to be in that elite company is amazing, and it's not something we talk about a lot, but we also understand that there are those opportunities in front of us to take advantage of,” Northville coach Chris Cronin said. “Winning state titles and adding our name to the record books with winning four in a row is an incredible feeling, and it has been an incredible journey for me and for this team.”
Despite his team being the favorite entering the Finals based on past successes and the return of four from last year’s squad, Cronin cautioned against looking too far ahead.
“I think the great challenge all year has been living up to those expectations that everybody thinks you are a shoe-in for the state title, but we knew both Plymouth and Okemos were going to be outstanding teams,” Cronin said. “Just keeping our head about us. We didn’t win Regionals, and maybe that made us play a little loose on day one and we were a little more comfortable. We had enough of a lead yesterday that we didn’t have to build on it too much today to take the victory.”
A total of 13 golfers were within four strokes of the lead entering Saturday, but Bridget Boczar emerged from of the pack with the best round of the Finals after opening with a 74.
“It was really exciting, and I didn’t really focus on winning this weekend,” she said. “I just focused on striking the ball well, putting a good stroke on my putts and then I knew eventually I would be at the top of the leaderboard somewhere.
“Just to finally make a few birdies on the back nine felt really good, and to end up on top, it’s great to finally get the job done.”
Grace Boczar was tied for the first-round lead with an even-par 72, and again shot 72 on Saturday.
“I didn’t care where I finished this weekend as long as I played well, and I did that,” Grace Boczar said. “I played some of the best golf I have all season, and so I’m very proud of how I played. I just focused on my game and what I could control and did that well.”
Both sisters are headed next to Oakland University to play golf.
Plymouth also placed Finals runner-up in 2018.
“This is one of the best teams Plymouth golf has ever had, and we’ve come in second twice in the last four years,” Bridget Boczar said. “It’s a little disappointing not to win, but Northville is so good and they are such great competitors. They really deserved it.”
The field also included the past two Division 1 individual champions. Okemos senior Allison Cui, who won the 2019 Division 1 Final and then claimed the Division 2 championship in 2020, tied for seventh this weekend. Grand Blanc junior Kate Brody, last season’s Division 1 champion, tied for fourth this time.
PHOTOS (Top) Northville's Samantha Coleman hits out of the sand during Saturday's second round at The Meadows. (Middle) Plymouth's Bridget Boczar shows her team's score card, which notes her individual championship score. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)