Plymouth Emerges as Repeat D1 Champ

October 19, 2013

By Gary Kalahar
Special to Second Half

EAST LANSING – If it’s possible for a defending MHSAA champion to lay in the weeds, the Plymouth High School girls golf team pulled it off this weekend.

Some early-season struggles might have kept the Wildcats out of the discussion of title contenders. But when the time came, Plymouth was ready to repeat. Plymouth captured its second consecutive Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship, emerging from a knot of teams at the top on a cold and soggy Saturday at Forest Akers West.

Plymouth finished two rounds at 706, four strokes in front of Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and five ahead of Troy. Those three teams were among five bunched within four strokes – and nine within 15 strokes – after the first round.

“Everybody had a chance to win,” Plymouth senior Kayla Whatley said. “We knew every stroke was going to count, because there are some good teams here and they were going to improve (from the first day).”

Plymouth led by two strokes after the first round, played in decidedly better conditions than the high-40 temperatures, cool breeze and intermittent rain of the second round. The Wildcats turned the worst day of the fall into the best.

“This one is better,” Plymouth junior Sydney Murphy said. “No one was expecting us to come out on top, and we did. We weren’t doing so well at the beginning, but we kept working at it, and here we are. We succeeded.”

Murphy, Whatley and sophomore Katie Chipman all helped Plymouth win the title last year. But that success didn’t carry over to 2013, at least early on as Plymouth had to replace two all-state players, including MHSAA medalist Kelsey Murphy. Even heading into the Regional, Plymouth was ranked just 10th in Division 1 by the coaches association.

“We started playing well the first of October and rode it through,” Plymouth coach Dan Young said. “We kept improving. It’s hard to explain. They’ve always practiced hard, done what they’re supposed to do.  For whatever reason, they started playing better. They’ve gotten better, and it’s been together as a team.”

Whatley, the only senior of the five Wildcats who played in the MHSAA Final, said the title was somewhat of a surprise.

“We really wanted to get it last year,” she said of Plymouth’s first championship. “We played much better all year long (last year).But after we won the conference, then we got excited, and we knew we had the potential to compete and win this.”

Even in the poor conditions, four of the five Plymouth golfers improved their scores from the first day. Murphy’s 77 was nine better, and Whatley’s 89 was a seven-stroke improvement.

“I needed to contribute to the team,” Murphy said about rebounding from her uncharacteristic first round. “It’s a team sport, and you all have to contribute what you can.”

“To her credit, she didn’t get down,” Young said. “Her attitude was tremendous. That’s what it’s all about. They all knew they had to come back and play better, and they did.”

Murphy’s ninth-place individual finish was Plymouth’s best, but the Wildcats’ depth was the difference. Katie Chipman totaled 166 and Alaina Strzalka 192 for Plymouth, which could have used its fifth-best score Saturday – Ariana Strzalka’s 103 – and still come out a winner.

For individual champion Lily Pendy, the single word on the back of her shirt – “Fight” – said it all.

Pendy, a senior at Grosse Pointe South playing in her fourth MHSAA Finals, fought through the conditions and won medalist honors with a 74-76—150. The pink shirts Pendy and her teammates sported bore inspirational words in honor of breast cancer awareness month and had special meaning for Pendy, whose mother, Megan, just finished cancer treatment.

“It shows what we’re playing for,” Pendy said. “This is really exciting. I did it for my team and my coach and my parents. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”

After posting a sixth-place Finals finish last year and helping her team win the team championship in 2011, Pendy figured the top individual spot was attainable.

“I hadn’t thought about it too much, but I had it in the back of my head,” she said.

Pendy’s 74 in the first round put her three strokes in front, and she finished six clear of the field.

“I felt pressure,” Pendy said about carrying the lead into the second round. “I was nervous. I’m not going to lie. But I tried to turn the nerves into excitement.”

Elayna Bowser of Dearborn took second with a pair of 78s for 156. Emily White of Saline matched Pendy for the second day’s best round of 76 and finished third overall at 157.

“I convinced myself that I like playing in the rain,” Pendy said. “You have to have a good attitude about it. I played steady golf, par golf most of the way.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Plymouth players hoist the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship trophy for the second straight season. (Middle) A player launches an approach shot toward the green during Saturday's second round. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)