The Pumfords are a golfing family. While that fact can be seen beyond Freeland High School, it’s very evident there.
Matt Pumford, who played collegiately for Michigan State University from 1994 through 1999, is the Falcons girls golf coach, while his mother Darlene is a volunteer assistant. Matthew’s daughters, Olivia and Grace, entered the season as the team’s 1 and 2, respectively.
But if Freeland is going to meet its goals this season, it’s going to have to do it down a Pumford, as Grace suffered a wrist injury that required surgery and will cause her to miss the rest of the year.
“We started the season really strong -- the first few tournaments went really solid. Even with Grace injured, we were still scoring solid,” Matt Pumford said. “We’re trying to fill that void, and so far the girls have stepped up and scored pretty well. I think that we’re just now starting to play a little better.”
The Falcons are ranked No. 3 in Division 3 and still reaching for their goal of making it back to the MHSAA Finals after a one-year hiatus. In the previous nine years, Freeland had made eight trips to the finals, finishing as high as seventh as a team.
“Freeland has had a solid team for years,” Matt Pumford said. “Last year we were placed in a very difficult region. We had a lot of the top teams in the same region, so even though we played really well, we still didn’t make it through. This year, it seems like the top teams are distributed all throughout the regions. It should be pretty competitive over at Owosso (the site of Freeland’s Regional).”
Olivia Pumford was the lone Falcon to go to qualify for the Finals a year ago, finishing 10th to garner all-state honors. She’s optimistic about her team’s chances to join her at Forest Akers East for this year’s championship event.
“All of our girls are very eager, especially having made it freshman and sophomore year,” Olivia Pumford said. “We have three seniors in our top five, and would love to make it because it’s at MSU this year. I’m really excited to see what we can do in Regionals. We’re just going to keep working hard these next two weeks.”
Her classmates, Lily Beyer and Alyssa Argyle, are also four-year players for the Falcons. Lydia Back, a sophomore, joined a season ago, giving Freeland plenty of experience despite missing Grace.
She’s still plenty missed, however, especially by her sister.
“Right around the very beginning of our season we played in an invite and we were partners for it, and during one of her swings she hit a tree root,” Olivia Pumford said, remember how the injury came about. “She screamed and dropped her club, but she continued to play on it. She had been playing on it for about three weeks. I was pretty sad, because Grace and I have been playing together for a few years. I was looking forward to my last season with her.”
While they may not get to share a high school golf course again, chances are the Pumford sisters will play together again, as the game is such a part of their family.
Their cousin, Nick, played at the University of Michigan and is the head coach of the Oakland University men’s golf team. Another cousin, Dustin, is a senior on the Saginaw Valley State team.
Matt Pumford is the reigning Saginaw District Golf Association champion, a title he has won six times. His older brother Alan, is a six-time winner of the tournament’s senior title.
“There’s videos of me when I was like 2 golfing around the house with those plastic clubs,” Olivia Pumford said. “I’ve always been around him. My dad has 11 siblings, and they all golf. I think I was kind of born into it. … We saw our dad on the range and fell in love with the game watching him. We learned the game from him.”
Grandma’s influence is heavy, too.
“She’s been a tremendous help this year,” Matt Pumford said. “I couldn’t have done it without her, because I started a new job, and she’s really stepped up. It’s been really special to have her coaching with me and coaching her granddaughters, as well.”
For Olivia, the experience of spending family time on the golf course while she completes her high school career is something she’s savoring.
“It’s something that I think last year I took for granted a little bit,” she said. “I think I put a little too much pressure on myself, but I had a little talk with my dad and he said, ‘I’m your dad first, then your coach.’ I think now this year, it’s hitting me that I have two and a half weeks left, so it’s more of just an enjoyment thing. It’s pretty sad that next year I don’t get him as a coach anymore. But it’s definitely something I’m very proud of -- I have a lot of pride in my family.”
The goal is to make this final season with her family last as long as possible, which means finishing in the top three Oct. 10 in a Regional tournament that also includes top-ranked Flint Powers Catholic.
“We always want to make it to the state tournament, and once we get there, we re-evaluate our goals based on how we’re playing at the time,” Matt Pumford said. “We really just want to go there and compete as well as we can. If we finish fifth, if we finish 10th at states, as long as we play to the best of our ability, I think we can consider that a success.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Freeland’s lineup after an event this fall, from left: Olivia Pumford, Lydia Back, Alyssa Argyle, Grace Pumford and Lily Beyer. (Middle) Olivia Pumford watches a shot during last season’s MHSAA Final at Forest Akers West. (Below) Olivia and dad/coach Matt Pumford, also at West. (Top photo courtesy of Freeland’s girls golf program; bottom two photos by HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)