Potential Unleashed, Adams Pursues Title

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

September 30, 2020

Time will tell how the Rochester Adams girls golf team will be judged this season.

But oh, what a ride it’s been so far.

Remarkably, Adams placed first in all seven of its tournaments heading into Wednesday’s Oakland County Invitational. In two of Adams’ tournament wins (at Hartland and Midland invitationals), the Highlanders bested then top-ranked and reigning LP Division 1 champion Northville. Adams has since moved to No. 1 In Division 1 with Plymouth No. 2 and Northville No. 3 according to the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association.

To suggest that this was a fluke is bunk. It’s possible for a team, or an individual, to complete that once-in-a-lifetime 18-hole round and finish on top. But seven times? Consecutively! Remarkable indeed.

Adams coach Jeff Kutschman knew this team had potential. So did his golfers. Last season Adams won its first three tournaments and finished a more-than-respectable seventh at the MHSAA Division 1 Final. That represented Adams’ first appearance in a Final since 2011, when it placed 14th. The Highlanders also placed second in the county meet and at Regionals in 2019. And they won the Oakland Activities Association White, the program’s first league title in 20 years.

Adams graduated two of its top five in the spring, but the two freshmen who replaced them are rising stars.

“We’ve got a bunch of trophies on the kitchen counter,” Kutschman said. “I told the girls, last year when we won those first three (that) this was amazing. (After the seven tournaments) I tempered them. They’re pretty grounded. I don’t have to tell them not to have a big head.

“The girls continue to impress me. I’m amazed at what they’ve done. And they’ve worked hard. (During) practice they’re constantly working on different parts of their game. After practice I’ll leave and they’ll text me and say things like I just made 250 putts from four feet because I wasn’t happy with my putts from that range.

“They know the game. They’re students of the game.”

Kutschman, an Adams graduate and teacher at Hart Middle School in Rochester, is in his fourth season as head coach. Five of his 10 golfers are seniors, but just one – Carly Ortwine, a captain – is among the top five. The other top players are junior Alyssa Fodale, sophomore Grace Wang and the two freshmen, Laura Liu and Fodale’s sister, Katie.

Liu leads the team in scoring average; Wang is second. Each was medalist twice during those first seven tournaments, and each placed second twice.

As fierce as the competition has been in the tournaments, the rivalry, though friendly, among Liu, Wang, Ortwine, et al, has only added to this season’s theatre.

“The girls have had an internal competition, which has been good,” Kutschman said. “The girls are constantly saying I want my teammates to do better and, at the same time, they want to be the one with the best score.”

Ortwine agreed, adding, “We all want to be the best. When one of the girls will come in with a low score, we all get excited. Then another will come in with a better score, and we get even more excited.”

An example took place at the Jackson Area Invitational where Liu was medalist with a 76, Wang placed second with an 80, Ortwine was third with an 81 and Katie Fodale was next with an 83.

The competition within this group is pretty intense.

Adams has racked up the miles this season travelling to Frankenmuth (Patriot Cup at The Fortress), Hartland (Hartland Glenn Golf Course), Jackson (Cascades Golf Course) and Midland (Dow Invitational at Midland Country Club). These rather long trips give the teammates more chances to interact, bond, and opportunities to play different courses thus providing new challenges.

For her part, Ortwine has made significant strides since her freshman season. She shot 89 at the Regional as a junior, which placed her in a tie for 13th. At the Division 1 Final at Forest Akers West in East Lansing, arguably the most demanding of the four courses to host a Finals last season, Ortwine carded a two-day total of 179 (87-92) helping her team to that fine finish.

This season she opened with a 78, 78 and a 77 before slipping to an 89 at the Patriot Cup. Ortwine rebounded with an 81 at Cascades and an 84 at the challenging Katke-Cousins Golf Course at Oakland University, then came in with a disappointing 90 in Midland.

“I’ve had some downfalls in my career,” Ortwine said. “Sometimes when you play (poorly) you get frustrated. Our coach does a good job of keeping us positive. We all support each other.

“We’re definitely close. Last year we had a pool party together. It’s important to step away and talk about other things, away from golf.”   

With the MHSAA Tournament fast approaching – Adams’ Regional is scheduled to be played Oct. 7 with the Final on Oct. 16 at Forest Akers East – there’s pressure to play your best when so much is at stake.

For many years Adams has played in the shadow of city rival Rochester High. The Falcons have won four MHSAA titles, the most recent in 2016. Adams is seeking its first Finals championship, with the Highlanders’ most recent run at the top spot a runner-up finish in 1999.

Adams' 2020 tournament streak ended Wednesday, as the Highlanders finished third at Fieldstone Golf Club in Auburn Hills to Bloomfield Hills Marian and South Lyon, the top-ranked team in Lower Peninsula Division 3 and No. 2 team in LP Division 2, respectively.

Adams can start another tournament streak at Monday's league finale, and the Highlanders plan to take this season's final steps one at a time. Ortwine is optimistic with regards to her team’s chances in October, but isn’t looking past the tasks at hand. 

“”I’m definitely motivated to win a state championship,” she said. “But we’re not thinking about that right now. We’re concentrating on winning a league title, then moving on to the Regionals.”

Tom Markowski is a correspondent for the State Champs! Sports Network and previously directed its web coverage. He also covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grace Wang watches a drive sail during Wednesday’s Oakland County Invitational. (Middle) Rochester’s Adams’ top five golfers, from left: Alyssa Fodale, Carly Ortwine, Wang, Katie Fodale and Laura Liu. (Photos courtesy of the Adams girls golf program.)

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.)