Be prepared for an encore or two, or more, at this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Finals.
Three 2020 team champions were top-ranked by iWanamaker heading into this postseason, and three of last season’s individual champions (plus a fourth from 2019) also will be back in the fields at The Meadows of Grand Valley State, Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley and Michigan State’s Forest Akers West and Forest Akers East.
The Finals have returned to a two-round, two-day format after COVID-19 precautions led to a one-round championship tournament a year ago. See below for a number of teams and individuals who could be in contention, and check out the MHSAA Website for full lineups and more.
LP Division 1 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State
Top-ranked: 1. Northville, 2. Plymouth, 3. Okemos.
Northville is seeking to become the eighth – and second in Lower Peninsula history – to win four straight Finals championships. But Plymouth is always in the mix, with fourth, third and second place finishes the last three seasons, and the Wildcats are seeking their first championship since claiming back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. Okemos was fourth in Division 1 in 2019 and third in Division 2 a year ago, and is seeking its first championship to go with a program-best runner-up run in 2013.
Northville: The Mustangs bring back plenty of championship experience. Four golfers will return from last year’s title-winning team, when all five finished among the top 19 individual placers. Junior Samantha Coleman led the way tying for sixth, and she and senior Megha Vallabhaneni tied for fourth as Northville placed second as a team at last week’s Regional at Washtenaw Golf Course.
Plymouth: The Wildcats should be carrying momentum into this weekend after finishing five strokes better than Northville to win that Washtenaw Regional. Senior Bridget Boczar brings star power to the top of the lineup after placing eighth as a freshman and tying for fourth individually both of the last two seasons. She was the individual champ last week and Plymouth’s top four at the Regional all are returnees from the 2020 Finals lineup, as senior Grace Boczar was third at Washtenaw and sophomore Brooke Morris was eighth.
Okemos: Two-time Finals champion Allison Cui has been one of the state’s best for three seasons, winning the Division 1 individual title as a sophomore and Division 2 as a junior and finishing runner-up in Division 2 as a freshman after a tie-breaker. Back in Division 1, she was second at her Regional as Okemos edged Brighton by three strokes to win at Davison Country Club. She’s one of three golfers back from last season’s Finals lineup, and freshman Alena Li followed her tying for third at the Regional.
More individuals of note: An accomplished field should make this weekend’s Final a classic, as four more top-10 finishers from last season join Boczar and Coleman plus Cui from Division 2. Grand Blanc junior Kate Brody is the reigning champion after finishing third as a freshman, and she shot a 67 to edge Cui by four strokes at their Regional. Ann Arbor Skyline senior Adie Maki tied for second last season, East Kentwood sophomore Elise Fennell tied for fourth and Rockford sophomore Jessica Jolly tied for ninth. Fennell also was a Regional champ, along with Livonia Stevenson senior Hailey Mydock, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior Addie Delcamp and Troy Athens junior Olivia Hemmila.
LP Division 2 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley
Top-ranked: 1. South Lyon, 2. Haslett, 3. Richland Gull Lake.
South Lyon was runner-up in 2019 and won its first championship in 2020, and the Lions enter this weekend after tying for the second-lowest Regional score in the division. Haslett and Gull Lake both are seeking their first top-two team finishes in this sport, after coming in fourth and 11th, respectively, last season. Byron Center shot a Division 2-low 339 to win its Regional ahead of Battle Creek Lakeview and Gull Lake.
South Lyon: All three Lions back from the 2020 Finals lineup placed among the top 12 at the Regional at Groesbeck last week, with junior Gabriella Tapp the medalist. She was the Finals individual champion as a freshman and tied for sixth last season. Seniors Sophia Joseph and Logan Foust were ninth and tied for 12th, respectively, at the Regional and also return from the 2020 run.
Haslett: The Vikings finished second at Groesbeck, nine strokes back, but with three top-15 individuals – and only one senior in the starting lineup. Junior Sydney Dausman was third and sophomore Mina Yoo seventh at the Regional after both finished among the top 18 at last year’s Final, and they are two of four returning from last season’s lineup.
Richland Gull Lake: The Blue Devils will bring three seniors back to the Finals after Annie Betts and Lauryn Jerke tied for sixth and finished 10th, respectively, at the Regional at Island Hills. Betts tied for 15th at the Finals a year ago.
More individuals of note: Aside from Tapp being a past champion, this field could be relatively wide open with Port Huron Northern junior Madison Bajis (who tied with Tapp for sixth) the only other top-10 finisher returning to Division 2 from last season. Bajis was second at her Regional to Grosse Pointe South senior Sabel Imesch, while Midland Dow junior Abby Wilson, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern junior Ashleigh Duflo, Portage Northern sophomore KT Leinwand and Dearborn Divine Child senior Julia Lizak also won Regional titles.
LP Division 3 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West
Top-ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 2. Macomb Lutheran North, 3. Goodrich.
Two-time reigning champion Bloomfield Hills Marian also is back after finishing third (and ahead of Goodrich) at their Regional, and Lutheran North, No. 7 Flint Powers Catholic and No. 4 Grand Rapids South Christian have been in the title mix regularly over the last four seasons. Cranbrook will be playing for its second Finals title in this sport and first since 2001, while Lutheran North was the champion most recently in 2017.
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood: The Cranes shot a Division 3-best 324 to win their Regional at Pontiac Country Club, with all five golfers finishing among the top eight individually. Four of those five were part of the lineup that finished fourth at the Finals in 2020, where now-senior Ashley Cong tied for ninth individually. She was third at last week’s Regional, with senior Natasha Samsonov coming in second.
Macomb Lutheran North: The Mustangs were second at the Pontiac Regional behind Cranbrook paced by three finishers among the individual top 10. Sophomore Lauren Timpf shot a 74 to win the Regional after finishing third at last year’s Final, and junior Aileen Consentino tied for sixth topping a lineup with only one senior.
Bloomfield Hills Marian: Also at Pontiac, Marian finished third and will make the trip to the Finals with a nearly new lineup after graduating four from last year’s championship team. The lone returnee, senior Ashley Carroll, finished fifth at the Regional and junior Colleen Hand was fourth.
More individuals of note: Five of last season’s top 10 are slated to return this weekend, beginning with Timpf and including Cong, Grand Rapids South Christian sophomore Ashley Thomasma (fourth in 2020), Grosse Ile junior Lily Bargamian (tied for seventh) and Whitehall senior Karli VanDuinen (tied for seventh). Also winning Regionals last week were VanDuinen, Grand Rapids Christian senior Sara Muir, Plainwell junior Renae Jaeger, Freeland freshman Averie Pumford and Grosse Ile sophomore Hanna Hargrove.
LP Division 4 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East
Top-ranked: 1. Montague, 2. Remus Chippewa Hills, 3. Jackson Lumen Christi
Montague posted its first top-two Finals finish last season in winning the Division 4 title by a mighty 27 strokes, and the Wildcats shot the second-lowest score among all Division 4 teams at last week’s Regionals. Chippewa Hills will be playing for its first top-two finish, while longtime power Lumen Christi will be playing for its first Finals title since winning Division 3 back-to-back in 2003 and 2004. Lansing Catholic, last season’s Finals runner-up, shot the best Division 4 Regional score last week by 23 strokes, a 331.
Montague: The three returning players from last year’s championship lineup were Montague’s top three scorers at the Regional last week at Katke in Big Rapids. Senior Orianna Bylsma was the Regional medalist and tied for fifth individually at the 2020 Final. All five Wildcats finished among the top 11 at the Regional, with senior Gabriella Moreau, sophomore Mackenzie Goudreau and senior Claire Meacham placing fourth, fifth and tied for sixth, respectively.
Remus Chippewa Hills: The Warriors are back after tying for ninth at the Final last season and finishing second to Montague last week at Katke. All four players who carded scores at the 2020 championship tournament are back, and four golfers finished among the top 12 at the Regional led by freshman Madison Allen in third and senior Kerstin Stadtfeld tied for sixth.
Jackson Lumen Christi: The Titans’ 355 last week was one stroke behind Montague’s for the third lowest at any Division 4 Regional as they finished second to Lansing Catholic at Cascades in Jackson. All five golfers finished among the top 12 including junior Ashley Hilderley in second and senior Caroline Hilderley tied for seventh. Ashley Hilderley is one of three scorers back from last year’s 13th-place Final team finisher.
More individuals of note: Michigan Center senior Kamryn Shannon will be aiming for a repeat championship after winning last season’s Division 4 Final, and she won the Regional at Hills of Lenawee last week by 15 strokes. Lansing Catholic senior Amanda Melling tied for ninth at least season’s Final and won the Regional at Cascades topping a Cougars lineup that saw all five finish tied for seventh or higher individually. Royal Oak Shrine junior Sydney Buchanan also tied for ninth last season and finished third at her Regional last week. Other Regional champions were Ann Arbor Greenhills freshman Mia Melendez, Pinconning senior Tori Shark and Grandville Calvin Christian junior Andrea Diemer.
PHOTO Okemos' Allison Cui sends a putt during her run to the 2019 Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.
Sluss 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.
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.”
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 DougDonnelly@hotmail.com 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.)