Preview: Legendary Opportunities Await

October 17, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

No doubt, this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Finals will provide unforgettable moments for everyone who takes part.

But there also are a number of storylines heading in that could prove memorable in statewide lore for seasons to come.

At least three reigning champions appear in the hunt to repeat – Traverse City West in Division 1, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern in Division 2 and Harbor Springs in Division 4. But West must fend off Northville – arguably the most impressive team this regular season in any division – while Forest Hills Northern just finished second at its Regional to Muskegon Reeths-Puffer and Harbor Springs faces a Division 4 field that includes reigning Division 3 champion Macomb Lutheran North.

For sure, we’ll say good-bye to two of the most accomplished individuals in state girls golf history. West’s Anika Dy and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s Danielle Staskowski will attempt to finish their high school careers with fourth MHSAA Finals individual championships – they’ve both won titles the last two years after Dy finished runner-up in Division 1 as a freshman and Staskowski began her prep run with a fourth place in Division 3 in 2015.

Only three others have won three Lower Peninsula championships since the first Finals in 1973 – Maple City Glen Lake’s Nichole Cox (2014-16), Okemos’ Elle Nichols (2011-13) and Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Kate Loy (1993-95).

Play begins at 10 a.m. both Friday and Saturday. See below for golfers to watch at all four Finals, and come back Saturday evening for coverage of all four championship tournaments on Second Half. Click for a list of all Finals qualifiers and Regional scores from last week. 

LP Division 1 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley

Top-ranked: 1. Northville, 2. Bloomfield Hills, 3. Traverse City West.

The Division 1 field is loaded with talented teams, especially representing the southeastern part of the state – 13 of 18 qualifiers are from Livingston, Oakland, Macomb or Wayne counties. But Traverse City West is the reigning Finals champion – and has won two of the last three seasons.

Northville: The Mustangs are undefeated this season playing many of the best teams in Division 1, with an incredible 291 in August setting a program scoring record. All five starters for this weekend were part of last season’s fourth-place Finals finish. Northville tied Hartland with the lowest Regional score in LPD1 last week, shooting a 326 at Travis Pointe in Saline to finish 21 strokes ahead of runner-up and No. 5-ranked Plymouth. Mariella Simoncini is the only senior among the top five, and she was the Regional individual runner-up.

Bloomfield Hills: The Black Hawks finished second by two strokes to No. 8 Clarkston at the Regional at Clarkston’s Pine Knob, shooting a 336, and remain No. 2 in the rankings. They won their second straight Oakland County Division 1 championship earlier this fall and bring back this weekend the four scorers from last season’s seventh-place finisher. Senior Mikaela Schulz was fourth individually a year ago and won the Regional title last week with a 74, four strokes ahead of sophomore teammate and runner-up Sanju Swamy.

Traverse City West: Senior Anika Dy will lead the Titans into this weekend seeking a third straight individual championship to go with a third team title. She won last year’s Final by eight strokes, while now-sophomore sister Anci Dy tied for sixth. Senior Jillian Ellul also returns from last year’s top five, and together they finished first, second and third, respectively as West shot a 335 to win last week’s Regional at The Meadows by 23 strokes.

Other individuals of note: Seven of last season’s top 10 are back this weekend. Rochester junior Savannah Haque was last year’s runner-up and also a key contributor when her team won Division 1 in 2016. Utica Eisenhower sophomore Ariel Chang tied Anci Dy for sixth last season, and Brighton senior Annie Pietila came in eighth and will play at the Finals for the fourth time. Ann Arbor Pioneer sophomore Amaya Melendez also had a big debut in 2017, tying for ninth. She joined Anika Dy and Schulz among Regional champs last week, along with Hartland senior Sydney Bradford, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior Domitille Chambon and Grosse Pointe South sophomore Audrey Becker. Brighton sophomore Maggie Pietila came in second to Bradford at Hartland Glen, with her 75 one of the lowest Regional scores division-wide as well.

LP Division 2 at Michigan State's Forest Akers West

Top-ranked: 1. Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, 2. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 3. Bloomfield Hills Marian.

Forest Hills Northern won its first championship last fall since 1982 and was ranked No. 1 all this season until Monday. Reeths-Puffer is shooting not only for its first championship, but first top-two finish after missing the latter by just a stroke a year ago. Marian was last season’s runner-up, achieving its first top-two finish, and could take another step this weekend as well.

Muskegon Reeths-Puffer: Karina VanDuinen was third at last year’s Final and Avery Howard was sixth, and they with also-returning senior Emma Veihl and junior Abby Fansler give the Rockets one of the most tournament-tested teams in the field. Scarier yet, freshman Karlie VanDuinen led the way at the Regional with her winning 70 the second-lowest score last week in the entire division as the team shot a 310 to best Forest Hills Northern. Older sister Karina won the Division 2 individual championship as a freshman in 2015, and Howard also placed as a sophomore in 2016.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: Senior Kay Zubkus and sophomores Lilia Henkel and Anna Fay are back from the team that won last season’s championship by 13 strokes – Henkel finishing seventh and Zubkus tying for 10th individually. The Huskies finished seventh strokes back of Reeths-Puffer last week at Grand Rapids’ Thornapple Pointe, with Zubkus second, Henkel third and Fay tied for sixth. Zubkus’ 72 was the third-lowest Regional score division-wide.

Bloomfield Hills Marian: Reigning Finals individual champion Shannon Kennedy leads four players back from last season’s second-place finisher as they look to make program history. She shot a two-round 146 last season as a freshman to clear the field by three strokes, and she was the Regional medalist at Huron Meadows in Brighton last week by two strokes with a 77. Zink, a senior, and Hudson, a junior, took fifth and tied for sixth, respectively, at the Regional, and sophomore Lauren Sass had the second-best score among the team’s returnees at last year’s Final.

More individuals of note: St. Joseph senior Cailey Rooker finished ninth last season and fourth as a sophomore, and won last week’s Regional at Coldwater Golf Course by seven strokes shooting an 80. Okemos freshman Allison Cui is shooting under par for the season and won last week’s Regional at The Emerald in St. Johns with a 69, 13 strokes ahead of the field. Petoskey junior Ashley Lamb and South Lyon senior Julia Vess also earned Regional championships.

LP Division 3 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East

Top-ranked: 1. Flint Powers Catholic, 2. Grand Rapids South Christian, 3. Freeland.

Powers is playing for its first championship since 2008, South Christian for its first since 2009, and Freeland for its first title and first top-two finish ever. Last season’s champion, Macomb Lutheran North, is in Division 4 this fall after finishing three strokes better than the Sailors in 2017. Unranked Spring Lake – third last season but champion for three straight from 2014-16 – shot the division’s lowest Regional score last week, 356.

Flint Powers Catholic: The Chargers finished third in 2016 and fifth last season, and return this weekend with four of their top five from a year ago plus a standout freshman. Sophomore Jolie Brochu tied for eighth at last season’s final and junior Maggie Knight missed the individual top 10 by a stroke in 2016. They led Powers to last week’s Regional title at Owosso Country Club, won with a tie-breaker against Freeland. Brochu finished first individually, Knight was third, with senior Gina Canavesio seventh, freshman Allie Sexton ninth and junior Olivia Canaday 10th.

Grand Rapids South Christian: The Sailors are headed to the Finals for the 23rd straight season and just missed another title a year ago as now-senior Natalie Samdal finished fourth individually to lead the way. Junior Maddie Wieringa and senior Ashley Keen also were part of that runner-up Finals effort, and all three finished among the top 10 as South Christian won last week’s Regional at Pigeon Creek in West Olive with a 363.

Freeland: Senior Olivia Pumford took 10th at last season’s Final as an individual qualifier and will be joined this weekend by the rest of the Falcons, who just missed winning the Regional (see above) but still shot what tied for the second-lowest score in the division last week. Pumford took first at the Regional as all five Freeland golfers finished among the top 12; senior Alyssa Argyle was fifth, senior Lily Beyer sixth and sophomore Lydia Beck eighth.

Other individuals of note: Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior Danielle Staskowski has won the last two Division 3 championships, by eight strokes last fall and in a playoff hole as a sophomore. She shot a 75 last week at Pontiac Country Club to win her Regional by a stroke over Goodrich senior Elizabeth Gibbs. Senior Hannah Klein tied for sixth at the Final last season in leading Spring Lake to its third-place team finish, and she tied for 10th as a sophomore in 2016. She too was a Regional champion last week, as was Hastings junior Rayna Honsowitz, Marshall junior Karlee Malone and Carleton Airport sophomore Kristen Reed.

LP Division 4 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State

Top-ranked: 1. North Muskegon, 2. Harbor Springs, 3. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian.

Harbor Springs is coming off last season’s first MHSAA girls golf championship, an 11-stroke victory. North Muskegon and NorthPointe Christian both are playing for their first titles – NorthPointe finished runner-up in 2013, while North Muskegon is seeking to place among the top two for the first time. Macomb Lutheran North is unranked but won in 2016 and then took first in 2017 in Division 3 – with three players from that team coming back this weekend.

North Muskegon: The Norsemen finished sixth in 2015, 11th in 2016 and fourth a year ago, and will go after their first title with all five scorers back from last season’s team. Senior Abby Grevel tied for eighth individually at the 2017 Final, and she’s joined by three more seniors and a sophomore. They won last week’s Regional at The Mines in Grand Rapids with a 344, 11 strokes better than the field, with Grevel second, senior Lindsay Bliss third and sophomore Georgie Kersman seventh.

Harbor Springs: Four of last season’s top five are back seeking a repeat run, with senior Madi Bezilla leading after tying for third individually a year ago. The team’s top four last season all shot within 10 strokes of one another at the Final, and that balance reigns as the Rams shot the division’s lowest Regional score last week, 353,  with all four scorers between 80-90. Bezilla was first, junior Evie Garver was second, sophomore Jacque O’Neill was third and senior Callie O’Neill came in eighth.

Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian: The Mustangs are looking to make a jump from 13th last season and third at last week’s Regional, which also included No. 5 Kalamazoo Hackett in the runner-up spot after North Muskegon. Three of last season’s top five lead the way, with sophomore Sabrina Langerak coming in fourth and junior Lauren Slottke fifth at the Regional.

Other individuals of note: Six of last season’s top 10 will be back this weekend, led by reigning champion Alissa Fish of Brooklyn Columbia Central. She won by two strokes last year as a junior, and claimed last week’s Regional title at Concord Hills by eight strokes. Jackson Lumen Christi senior Hillary Ziemba tied for third last year, Shepherd senior Morgan Yates tied for sixth, and Kalamazoo Hackett senior Emily Stull was 10th.  All three won Regional titles last week, as did Macomb Lutheran North senior Kaity Rittner – who finished fifth in LPD3 in 2017.

PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City West’s Anika Dy unloads a drive during last season’s LPD1 Final. (Middle) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s Danielle Staskowski stands at the front of the line of top individual finishers in LPD3 in 2017. (Click to see more from

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.)