Portage Northern's Leinwand Driving to Contend Again, Lead Huskies' Rise

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

August 23, 2022

PORTAGE — When she was 4 years old, KT Leinwand’s parents joined the Kalamazoo Country Club, she said, to give their children something to do during the summer months.

Southwest CorridorSpecial events for children included “fun things around the (golf) course with little kids and little putt-putt matches,” Leinwand recalled this week. “They just wanted to keep me busy.”

Little did she realize that those “fun things” would lead to a passion for golf that has catapulted Leinwand into becoming one of the top high school golfers in the state.

Last fall, as a Portage Northern sophomore, she finished second at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final.

What is more unusual is that no one in her family — her parents, three siblings or grandparents — plays golf.

By age 8, she was learning the finer points of the sport by attending clinics.

“I would come and play with my friends,” Leinwand said. “We met (KCC assistant pro at the time, now head pro) Kyle Horton, and I decided I wanted private lessons with him when I was 9.

“Kyle gave me the love of golf, and then I kept going. Then I went with another coach, Abby Pearson, and she made me love it even more. I just kept getting out there every day and playing. Been with her ever since.”

Northern girls golf coach Chris Andrews also led the school’s baseball team to a Division 1 title in 2019. Leinwand, who turned 16 two weeks ago, is the top golfer for the Huskies.

“We have obviously a really good No. 1 golfer in KT, which offsets a lot of scoring because she’s consistently in the low- to mid-70s,” Portage Northern coach Chris Andrews said. “So that gives us a little bit of a buffer for our fourth and fifth golfers.

“This year, we really have a good No. 2 and 3 golfer. We have a handful of girls trying to get us that fourth score we need. I’m looking at if we can get 100 or less out of that fourth scorer, we could be a state qualifier.”

The No. 2 golfer is senior Zoey Quinn.

“She’s gotten to the point where she’s actually a really, really good softball player, but she’s switching her passion to golf and wants to play in college,” Andrews said. “She shoots in the 80s consistently.”

No. 3 is freshman Brooke Randall.

“She has had two good rounds so far,” Andrews said. “I see her scoring in the 80s consistently this year.

“If she gets out here the next couple weeks and plays more with KT and Zoey and just picks up some of the course management, she’s going to be a really, really good golfer as well.”

Others on the young varsity team are sophomores Lizzy Rzepka, Jenna Vliestra, Lauren Shaman and Addison Munn plus freshman Lilly Ray.

If the team does qualify for the MHSAA Finals, that would be a bonus for Leinwand, who was an individual qualifier the last two years.

Last fall, her two-day total of 148 at Bedford Valley in Battle Creek was just four strokes behind champ Gabriella Tapp of South Lyon.

If Leinwand qualifies again this year, “Gabriella will be a senior, and she’ll still be around so I’ll see her,” she laughed.

As a freshman, Leinwand finished 23rd individually in LPD2 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West, the site of this year’s LPD2 Final.

Leinwand awaits her turn to putt during practice.Jumping from 23rd to second in a year took a lot of work and practice, she said.

“I worked in the winter a bunch at the Dome Sports Center in Schoolcraft. I was out there all the time working on my swing,” Leinwand said. “In the summer and spring when it was finally nice out with no snow, I was playing every day.”

With no others golfers in her family, Leinwand relies on her coach and friends to hit the links.

Sometimes she will go out by herself or join up with another group, which can cause some surprises.

“You don’t see a lot of young girls that good,” Andrews said, adding that Leinwand’s drives average 260 yards.

Andrews makes his point.

“I had a friend here and we played golf with my son,” he said. “KT joined us for one hole before she had to leave.

“My friend’s a scratch golfer. He was disappointed she left because he enjoyed watching her play. That’s a common reaction when people see her play.”

Leinwand credits her coach with helping her keep focus on the course.

Andrews teaches health, personal finance and International Baccalaureate sports exercise health science at Northern, and also is a mental performance trainer.

As the Huskies baseball coach, he credits mental performance as part of the success that propelled his 2019 team to the Division 1 championship.

He also works with other teams and individual athletes in the area.

“I use a lot of mental strategies from my coach,” Leinwand said. “After a bad shot, I have to erase it and go to the next shot and totally clean slate and totally forget about that bad shot.”

However, her strength is her power off the tee, she said.

“I can hit it a good amount farther than a lot of the girls. When we’re playing short courses, I don’t always need to hit my driver off the tee, so I hit something like an iron or a wood that can be more consistent and straighter.”

Andrews looks to his junior as a role model for others on the team.

“KT brings a quiet confidence that I think the other girls can look at her and not just admire her physical ability, but her presence on the course and her presence around the course,” he said.

“She’s always in good spirits, and she doesn’t have too highs or too lows. She’s steady. Her mental game is probably her strength. She’s a good role model to the other girls to work hard and stay steady with the mental side.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Portage Northern’s KT Leinwand is aiming to take the next step after finishing runner-up in Lower Peninsula Division 2 last season. (Middle) Northern girls golf coach Chris Andrews also led the school’s baseball team to a Division 1 title in 2019. (Below) Leinwand awaits her turn to putt during practice. (Photos by Pam Shebest.)

3-Sport Standout Sluss Gives Lenawee Christian All-State Boost for Every Season

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)