Preview: Sending Out Standout Seniors

October 13, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Michigan will say good-bye to an accomplished senior class during this weekend’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Finals.

Competing for the last time are a pair of standouts who have combined for three individual championships, more who have finished in the hunt two and three seasons, plus a number of others who have been part of multiple team championships or had their teams in contention multiple times in the past.

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

LP Division 1 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East

This again is forecast as a close race. The top eight teams last season finished within 15 strokes of each other. Then-unranked Traverse City West came from fourth place and five strokes back last season to win the championship over Rochester on a fifth-player tie-breaker – and most of their lineups are back for a rematch.

Top-ranked: 1. Rochester, 2. Traverse City West, 3. Brighton.

Rochester: The Falcons have to be favorites again after shooting an incredible 289 to win their Regional at Twin Oaks in Oakland Township. All five golfers finished among the top seven individuals last week – senior Brooke Busse shot a 69 to finish first and senior Veronica Haque and freshman Savannah Haque tied for second at 72 – and Busse, Veronica Haque, senior Erica Yang and junior Keri Yang made up the top four of last year’s Finals lineup. Veronica Haque tied for fifth individually at last year's Final.

Traverse City West: The Titans haven’t surprised anyone this fall, with last year’s top four Finals scorers back in the lineup and all five at last week’s Regional at The Meadows finishing among the top 10 individuals. Sophomore Anika Dy was first with a 70 and senior Hunter Kehoe was second at 76 as West shot a 309 to win the Regional, and Dy should be in the mix for the individual medal this weekend after finishing second to Brighton's Julia Dean by a stroke in 2015.

Brighton: The Bulldogs have remained elite even without reigning Miss Golf Dean topping the lineup; she was injured before the season according to a report by the Livingston Daily Argus & Press and did not return. But sophomore Annie Pietila, junior Heather Fortushniak and sophomore Autumn Blaney also were in the lineup at last season’s Final when the team finished ninth. Brighton repeated as Regional champion at Hartland Glen shooting a 314 with Pietila the individual medalist at 71 and Fortushniak third at 76 as all five players finished 14th or better. The Bulldogs finished second by a stroke to No. 8 Novi at the Kensington Lakes Activities Association tournament Monday and will have no problem playing with the best.

Other individuals of note: All but one of the 11 players who finished tied for 10th or higher are back. Lake Orion senior Moyea Russell led her team to a Regional championship at WestWynd in Oakland Township with a first-place 77, and she's coming off a tie for third at last year's Final with Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior Lauren Ingle, who finished fourth last week at Twin Lakes behind the three Rochester leaders. Five more top-10 finishers from 2015 also are back this weekend – North Farmington junior Alana Jones, Davison senior Kamryn Johnston and Novi senior Alexa Hatz all tied for seventh last year, and Grand Blanc senior Cammi Lucia and Ann Arbor Pioneer junior Katie Mina-Lee tied for 10th. Saline junior Catherine Loftus and Farmington Hills Mercy sophomore Mia Sooch also were Regional champions last week.

LP Division 2 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University

Top-ranked: 1. Midland Dow, 2. South Lyon, 3. St. Joseph.

After finishing second to Birmingham Seaholm by 13 strokes last season – but ahead of the rest of the field by 15 – Dow is considered the favorite after another dominating season in the mid-Michigan area. South Lyon was third and St. Joseph fifth last season and they could make this a little closer than a year ago, when Seaholm led Dow by just two strokes after the first round before breaking away.

Midland Dow: This will be the final high school run for senior Stephanie Carras, who finished second individually at last year’s Final, fourth as a sophomore and third as a freshman. She finished second at the Regional at Greenville’s Bowen Lake to junior sister Alexis Carras, who shot a 70, and senior Caroline Szabo came in fifth that day. Alexis Carras tied for third at last season’s Final, and senior Morgan Deiters, 16th at the Regional last week, also played in the Finals lineup in 2015.

South Lyon: The Lions also return three players from last season’s Finals lineup, led by junior Elizabeth Harding, who finished second at the Regional at Mason’s El Dorado and 10th in Division 2 in 2015. Junior Sophie Yergin and senior Mya Price also are back from last season, and Price is the only player in the top five graduating next spring. South Lyon won its Regional by four strokes with all five players finishing among the top 21, with Yergin next best in 10th.

St. Joseph: The Bears will bring to Allendale one of the most experienced groups in any division, with five players who got in swings at the 2015 Final (senior Kaylee Sharai and junior Katie Schmidt both played one round in the fifth spot). Sophomore Cailey Rooker, junior Maddie Wright and Sharai (tied for third) took the top three places, respectively, at the Regional at Battle Creek’s Cedar Creek last week, and Rooker finished just a stroke outside the top 10 at last year’s Final.

Other individuals of note: Muskegon Reeths-Puffer sophomore Karina VanDuinen won Division 2 last season as a freshman, edging Stephanie Carras by two strokes, and is back after helping her team to a runner-up Regional finish while finishing third individually at Muskegon Country Club. Flushing senior Kerrigan Parks was first and Bloomfield Hills Marian junior Alexandra Robb tied for third at the Flint Elks Club Regional after coming in fifth and tied for sixth, respectively, at the 2015 Final. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern sophomore Kay Zubkus was the Regional medalist in Muskegon with a 79 and Walled Lake Western senior Shana Murphy won at El Dorado with a 71. Farmington senior Elle Greenlee won the Regional at Monroe Country Club with an 83.  

LP Division 3 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley

Top ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 2. Flint Powers Catholic, 3. Spring Lake.

Spring Lake repeated as champion last season by an incredible 70 strokes over runner-up Goodrich at Forest Akers West with a 325 first round and 336 second. But Cranbrook Kingswood finished second three straight seasons from 2012-14 and should make a run at its first title since 2006. Powers didn’t make the Final at all in 2015, but is expected to push the Cranes for a first championship since 2008.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood: Juniors Kate Cao and Carmen Chan are the only returnees from last season’s Finals five, but they tied for the Regional championship at Fieldstone in Auburn Hills with 78s as all five Cranes finished among the top 12 places last week. Cao and Chan also were starters on the team that finished Division 3 runner-up in 2014.

Flint Powers Catholic: The Chargers won their Regional at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc ahead of No. 4 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and No. 5 Goodrich, placing four among the top eight and all five among the top 15. Although Powers missed the Finals last fall, seniors Madison Zloto, Lizzy Marlinga and Ameila Gavulic all started for the team that finished eighth in Division 4 in 2014.

Spring Lake: A team that got a taste of winning big at last year’s Final also did so last week at the Regional at White Lake in Whitehall, finishing 56 strokes ahead of the field with senior Anna Kramer taking first, junior Madelyn Nelson and senior Jaedyn Shelton tying for second and all five golfers finishing among the top 11. Kramer is the reigning individual Division 3 Final champion, and she also took second as a sophomore and fourth as a freshman.

Other individuals of note: Four more top-10 finishers from last season will join Kramer again this weekend. Notre Dame Prep sophomore Danielle Staskowski was fourth at the 2015 Final and won the Regional last week at Warwick Hills, where she was followed in second by Goodrich senior Sydni Harding – who also followed Staskowski in fifth last season at Forest Akers West. Detroit Country Day senior Mallika Brar was eighth last season and finished third at Fieldstone, and Plainwell senior Madison Tran was ninth last year and won last week’s Regional at Marshall Country Club. Hastings senior Jackie Nevins also comes into this weekend as a Regional champion after winning by six strokes at Stonewater in Caledonia, and Adrian senior Ashley Rincon won her Regional at Hankerd Hills in Pleasant Lake by two strokes.

LP Division 4 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West

Top-ranked: 1. Macomb Lutheran North, 2. Kalamazoo Hackett, 3. Livonia Ladywood.

Hackett has claimed the last two Division 4 championships and is expected to be in the mix again this weekend – although last season’s runner-up Lutheran North is the favorite. Those two cleared the rest of the field last year by 29 strokes – Hackett by 38, winning by nine – but the standings could be closer this time with more experienced standouts returning.

Macomb Lutheran North: All three players who finished among the individual top 10 at last season’s Final are back to lead the lineup this weekend after Lutheran North won the Regional at Heather Hills in Romeo by 20 strokes over Ladywood. Senior Sydney Martens won the Regional, while junior Serena Nguyen was third and sophomore Kaity Rittner was sixth as all five players placed among the top nine. Nguyen was fourth, Martens ninth and Rittner 10th at last season’s Final at Forest Akers East.

Kalamazoo Hackett: Similar to Lutheran North, Hackett brings back a powerful trio from 2015. Senior Naomi Keyte won the Regional at Silver Lake Country Club in Rockford, with junior Molly Clark third and sophomore Emily Stull fourth. Keyte was third and Stull tied for sixth at last year’s Final, and Stull was ninth as a freshman in 2014 with Keyte joining her in that championship lineup as well.

Livonia Ladywood: The Blazers bring back four players this weekend who helped the team finish fourth a year ago – and 26 strokes ahead of third-place and No. 6-ranked Almont at the Regional last week. Seniors Jordyn Rioux (second place) and Lydia Cranmer (fourth), junior Gabriella Scopone (ninth) and sophomore Evelyn Kruger (15th) carded scores at the Regional and were in the Finals lineup last year as well, Rioux missing the individual top 10 at Forest Akers East by a stroke.

Other individuals of note: Reigning champion Nichole Cox from Maple City Glen Lake will be playing her final high school event of a career that also has included the Division 4 championship as a sophomore and a third place as a freshman. Similarly, Frankenmuth’s Meg Watkins will cap her career after finishing second last season and sixth as both a sophomore and freshman. Cox shot a 79 at Manistee Country Club last week to win that Regional by eight strokes, and Watkins won her Regional by six strokes with an 85 at Brookside in Gowen. Lansing Catholic senior Abigail Meder won her Regional at Glenbrier in Perry, and Brooklyn Columbia Central sophomore Alissa Fish was the medalist at Devil’s Lake in Manitou Beach.

PHOTO: Lansing Catholic’s Abigail Meder attempts to send her ball out of the rough on the way to winning the Alma Invitational in September. (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 [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.)