Performance: Notre Dame's Danielle Staskowski

October 24, 2018

Danielle Staskowski
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior – Golf

The Fighting Irish ace capped her career Saturday at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East with her third Division 3 Finals individual championship – becoming just one of five Lower Peninsula girls to achieve that feat. She shot a two-day 152 and won a one-hole playoff to clinch the title, and led Notre Dame Prep to tie for fifth as a team in earning the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Staskowski has thrived in pressure situations. As a freshman, she won a playoff to claim the final individual qualifying spot from her Regional – and went on to take fourth at the Final. She missed most of her tennis season the following spring and then a summer of golf with a broken rib – but she came back in the fall and won her first MHSAA Finals also in a one-hole playoff while leading her team to a runner-up finish. She cleared the Finals field to win by eight strokes as a junior – shooting career-best rounds of 72 both days – in helping the Irish finish 13th.  Staskowski owns school records for low 9 (34) and 18-hole scores and 9 and 18-hole averages. This season she averaged 37.3 strokes for nine-hole matches and 77.7 for 18.

This fall’s success followed a highlight-filled summer that included a run to the Round of 8 match play at the Michigan Women’s Amateur in August. Staskowski finished runner-up at the Oakland County Invitational in September and won her Regional with a 75 on the way to shining again in East Lansing. On the same day she won her third title, friend Anika Dy from Traverse City West also won her third straight Division 1 championship as together they became the first to win three titles since another friend, Maple City Glen Lake’s Nichole Cox, won three straight in Division 4 from 2014-16. Staskowski is committed to continue her career next year at Central Michigan University. She carries a 3.4 grade-point average and is considering studying biomedical engineering.

Coach Kyle Lilek said: “Dani has been playing golf for about 15 years. She practices every day, has taken lessons from a variety of swing coaches, and even taken lessons from a mental coach. She has always worked hard at her game and dedicated herself to golf. However, at her freshman year tryout she stepped up to the tee, and due to nerves, duffed her tee shot; I always remember that story, because as talented as she is, she's still a teenage girl who deals with the same obstacles as anyone else ... and overcomes them all. … Dani thrives when presented with obstacles, and her high school golf career is proof of that fact. She has played and won three playoffs in the past four years. … This is what she does, and she thrives when presented with direct competition. It can seem overwhelming and super-human to achieve at Dani's level the way she does, but I never forget how human she is. … Dani is just a large heart with limbs. Her empathy, compassion, and friendship is what made her a leader and captain on the team, not her skill. She's the type of girl to console a frustrated teammate, even after winning a state title. I've always been proud of Dani; I've been proud of her skill, proud of her competitive spirit, but I've been most proud of her heart. She's a three-time state champion because of her fiercely competitive spirit, and because of her caring heart. I will miss her next year, but I'll always be proud of her, and I'll always have her back.”   

Performance Point: “After I made my putt on Saturday, and my team running onto the green, is always something I'm never going to forget. All the support from them, that's something that will always stick out. … What's funny about it actually is that I grew up golfing with Anika (Dy) and with Nichole Cox, so it's a crazy thing to think because we all did the same golf camp when we were younger. So me and my dad were laughing about it – we said, ‘I guess the camp works out pretty well.’ It's such an amazing thing to accomplish (three championships) with my best friends. We've been talking about it all week, and just bringing up old memories from camp and just stuff like that. It's been a pretty cool couple of days just getting to talk with (Anika) and experiencing this together.”

Mastering the mental game: “The biggest thing for me is treating everything the same. Whether it's a really big international tournament, or it's a regular tournament for high school, treating everything the same and never feeling like I have an advantage over anybody else and just going into it like everybody has a chance to win this. I work with Jason Novetsky, who is a really great mindset coach, and we work on stuff with that all the time – on trying to keep my mind in it, and focused, and not on the future and the outcome. I think that's been a big help for me. … Golf is so day to day. You just have to always remember that anybody can win it, anybody could have the round of their life, to always play every shot the best you can. I think that's what really just keeps me in the moment and helps me out.”

On to the next shot: “I’ve learned how to deal with things that don't go well on the course better now. I wouldn't say I used to panic when things went wrong on the course, but I've learned to really use the mindset that the next shot is so important. If you hit it into a pond or if you hit it into something where you weren't expected to hit it – the rough or in a bunker – you just play that shot, and then move on and try to birdie the next hole. Moving on from something that didn't go as planned is something I'm doing a lot better, and just remembering that it's a game.”

It’s always been golf:  “I've been playing golf my entire life. It's just always stayed that thing that I love, because I never let it turn into a chore. Every time I go out and play, it's fun. If I'm trying to beat myself, or if I'm trying to beat the course … it's just something that's always fun to me. I'm always happy to be out there playing, never felt like I have to go and practice, that I have to go do this. I think that keeping it fun for me has been why it's still my thing. I never go on a golf course and don't want to be there. With my mindset coach, another thing we talk about all the time is you don't have to go play golf; you get to play golf, which is something I keep in my head all the time. I've had the opportunity to go out and play golf all the time, and it's fun for me, and I'm going to take that opportunity and I'm going to keep it fun. Plus, I grew close to a lot of girls in the golf community, so usually when I'm at tournaments, it's with the people that I really like to be around and that have the same goals as me. It just keeps it really fun and light-hearted.”

More than a team: “My golf team is my family, and if they need anything any time, they know they can call me, they can come to me and I'll do anything in my power to support them and be a good captain. If they need swing advice and they want help with it, I'll help them out with it. Or if they need notes from a course that I have, I'll walk them through it or we'll go out and play a round together and I'll give them advice. Even outside of golf too; we're best friends on the golf course, and we're best friends in the hallway. That was a really big thing for me when I became one of the captains last year; we are a team, but I want us to also be a family. I just wanted to have a group of girls that could rely on each other even when we're not playing our sport, outside of school. … I wanted it to be a really friendly, family-like environment, and I think that's what happened this year, which was really exciting for me.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2018-19 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. 

Past 2018-19 honorees

October 18: Adam Bruce, Gladstone cross country - Read
October 11: Ericka VanderLende, Rockford cross country - Read
October 4:
Kobe Clark, Schoolcraft football - Read
September 27: Jonathan Kliewer, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern soccer - Read
September 20: Kiera Lasky, Bronson volleyball - Read
September 13: Judy Rector, Hanover-Horton cross country - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep's Danielle Staskowski fires a shot during Saturday's second round at Forest Akers East. (Middle) Staskowski follows one of her iron shots during Friday's first round. (Top photo by Jason Schmitt.) 

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.)