Performance: Escanaba's Paxton Johnson

June 8, 2018

Paxton Johnson
Escanaba junior – Golf

The Eskymos’ ace became the 10th in MHSAA history to win a third Girls Golf Finals individual championship when she shot an 80 on May 31 at Escanaba Country Club to claim the Upper Peninsula Division 1 title by five strokes and earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Johnson next season will attempt to join Marquette’s Kendra Palmer (1996-99) and Carley Saint-Onge (2008-11) as the only four-time Finals winners. Johnson has averaged 80 strokes for 18 holes during the first three seasons of her high school career, despite often battling tough spring conditions during the U.P. thaw, and has won 31 of 32 high school events she’s played. She’s managed her Finals success despite playing the last three seasons against Houghton’s Kaaren Liston, who won the U.P. Division 1 title in 2015 as a freshman and finished second (or tied for second) to Johnson the last three years. Last week’s championship came despite a storm that halted play and left sizable puddles on the course as golfers returned – but Johnson continued to shine and in the process also led Escanaba to its third straight UP Division 1 team championship.

In addition to starring on the course, Johnson plays volleyball during the fall and carries a 4.1 grade-point average to rank second academically in her graduating class. Her favorite subject is chemistry – “It’s fun to be able to overcome challenges,” she said – and she hopes to study after high school to become a pharmaceutical chemist while continuing her golf career at the collegiate level.

Coach Brian Robinette said: “She's had a phenomenal run for sure. Her fundamentals and golf IQ are remarkable. She is also the type that works when coaches are not looking. All this and she is the No. 2-ranked student in her class. Pax is truly driven to play at the next level.”

Performance Point: “I played pretty solid for my first nine holes, and then I had a mess-up on (No.) 10 and then we got called off the course, which helped me get my momentum back. The only places I really struggled after that were on the holes that were really soaked with water where even a casual water drop didn’t really help. So I think it went pretty well considering the weather conditions. … I didn’t really know how wet it was until we got out to that hole. I was just glad that it wasn’t still raining. It was actually kinda nice out.”

Cusp of history: I actually know Kendra Palmer; I played in the U.P. Ladies Finals with her. I just think it would be really cool to be able to have my name in that group. They’re both really good golfers. … I really started thinking about it this year. After I won the first two (MHSAA titles) and I found out the Finals were at my home course this year, I was like, ‘OK, if I can pull off the third I’ll have some momentum going into my fourth year.’”

Lead the way: “I’d really like to win another team championship, so I really want to work hard at that. That’s my main priority. I plan on asking my teammates to golf with me all summer long to get a feel for it more. We had a senior who graduated who had a lot of experience, but other than that, the rest of our team is really new. I just like being able to encourage my teammates, and congratulate them after we win as a team; that’s a great feeling. Especially after U.P.s (Finals), once we added up the scores, being able to tell whole team we did it and we pulled it off was a great feeling.”

Golfer for every season: “When the snow does melt, we do try to get out as soon as we can, as soon as the course is open. We just try to stay out as long as we can and try to make the most of the season. … I’ve played in snow before, and sleet and snow at the same time. There was one round at our (Great Northern Conference) finals where we got called off the course, but before we got called off it started downpouring and the greens were just running with water and we were still playing, so that was interesting. … (My strength) is probably being able to play and stay focused in whatever weather comes my way just because I have played in those conditions before. I see people get frustrated and just lose focus. (I’m) just trying to stay focused, focused on lies and stuff like that – it’s more defensive golf against the weather and just trying to play it safe.”

Looking up to Lexi: “I really like Lexi Thompson, just how aggressive she plays. She’s fearless on the course. I went to an LPGA event one time and actually got to meet her, and that was cool.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
May 31: Lydia Goble, Schoolcraft softball - Read
May 24: Corinne Jemison, East Kentwood track & field - Read
May 17: Reagan Wisser, Richland Gull Lake soccer - Read
May 10: Clayton Sayen, Houghton track & field - Read
May 3: Autumn Roberts, Traverse City Central tennis - Read
April 26: Thomas Robinson, Wyoming Lee track & field - Read
March 29: Carlos Johnson, Benton Harbor basketball - Read
March 22: Shine Strickland-Gills, Saginaw Heritage basketball - Read
March 15: Skyler Cook-Weeks, Holland Christian swimming - Read
March 8: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County wrestling - Read
March 1: Camree' Clegg, Wayne Memorial basketball - Read
February 23: Aliah Robertson, Sault Ste. Marie swimming - Read
February 16: Austin O'Hearon, Eaton Rapids wrestling - Read
February 9: Sophia Wiard, Muskegon Oakridge basketball - Read
February 2: Brenden Tulpa, Hartland hockey - Read
January 25: Brandon Whitman, Dundee wrestling - Read
January 18: Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa swimming - Read
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City West golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Escanaba’s Paxton Johnson watches one of her drives during last week’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals at Escanaba Country Club. (Middle) Johnson putts on the way to earning her third individual championship. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)

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 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.)