Reigning Champions Raise the Bar
May 29, 2013
By Stephen Anderson
Special to Second Half
HOUGHTON — The Houghton girls golf team won its third straight MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 title Wednesday, and Marquette’s Avery Rochester won her second straight medalist honor.
But both raised the bar to new heights, including a U.P. Finals record for Rochester.
The Gremlins compiled a 347 team score, compared to Marquette’s second-place 365. Houghton’s title-winning score in 2012 was 365, and in 2011 it was 374.
“Three straight years where we haven’t lost a meet – that’s real impressive,” Houghton girls coach Corey Markham said. “That just shows the quality of golfers these girls are. … They’ve been so consistent. You couldn’t ask for more than that.”
Megan Kelly paced the Gremlins with an 82, while No. 3 golfer Noelle Polakowski tallied an 84 (the next lowest score by a No. 3 golfer was 103), and Bailey Raffaelli, Houghton’s only senior, shot an 88. Even No. 4 golfer Kenna Farrey shot a 93, good for eighth place overall of the 42 counted scores.
“Going three years and not losing a meet, not losing U.P.’s, it’s a huge honor,” Kelly said. “… It gave us a huge advantage this year having it on our home course.”
But, even playing at Portage Lake Golf Course, the final result was momentarily in doubt as results slowly trickled in. With all Marquette and Houghton scores posted on the board outside the clubhouse except for Polakowski’s, the Redmen held a slight edge – until her 84 clinched the Gremlins’ win.
“I think we all had a goal to break 90,” Polakowski said. “For the most part we did that. … It was our course, and we were ready to go.”
But nobody dominated the par-72 course like Rochester, who set a girls’ U.P. Finals record with a 3-under 69 — two strokes better than the top boys’ score, and just one stroke off the girls MHSAA all-Finals record round (68 by Grandville’s Stacy Snider in 1998).
“It was the best round of my life,” said Rochester, whose previous best round was a 76. The previous U.P. Finals record was 79, set in 2011 by Marquette standout and four-time U.P. Finals medalist Carly Saint-Onge. Rochester was medalist in 2012 with an 82.
“My drives were really good, and my approach shots were right on,” said Rochester, who tallied her first career eagle on the par-5 second hole, her fourth hole of the day. “My drive was about 220 yards. Then my second shot I used a 5-hybrid, hit that to about 30 yards from the green, then a soft sand wedge. It hit once and went straight in the cup,” she said. “… That really pumped me up and got me playing better.”
She shot an even-par 36 over her first nine holes with a pair of bogeys being the worst scores of her round.
“When my coach told me she shot a 36, I thought I wouldn’t be able to touch that,” said Kelly, who entered the day as a medalist contender for the host Gremlins. “Then when she got a 33 (on the last nine), that’s amazing. She’s an awesome golfer.”
Rochester nearly tallied a hole in one on the par-3 14th hole, but the golf ball lipped out.
She was the youngest champion in the 86-year history of the Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association tournament last July, and she plans to play golf at Columbia College in Missouri this fall.
“It would have been a great way to end my last year winning as a team too, but I couldn’t have asked for more from the girls on my team,” Rochester said.
Marquette coach Ben Smith said his team’s best previous score was about 400, and the team has failed to record a team score in several meets due to having fewer than four golfers.
“The team result, obviously you want to win whenever you go out. But Houghton shot a great score to take home the title,” Smith said. “We did a good job to hang right in there.”
Sophomore Katie Pryor and freshman Sydney Higgins both shot 95s for Marquette, while Hannah Compton rounded out the top four Redmen scores with a 103.
Just as Marquette came together as a team at just the right time, the weather in Houghton shaped up when it mattered. PLGC opened May 14, its latest opening on record, and for Copper Country teams the golf season was shorter than three weeks due to the long winter.
Wednesday temperatures were about 70 degrees with a light breeze under partly
Escanaba finished in third place with a 389, led by Kelsey Motto and Jalyn Dagenais’ 92s. Gladstone was fourth with 410 strokes with Callie Jensen tying with Polakowski for third place individually with an 84.
Menominee (436), Calumet (443), Kingsford (514), Ishpeming-Westwood (587) and Negaunee (652) rounded out the team rankings.
PHOTOS: (Top) Marquette's Avery Rochester watches her drive on the 16th hole at Portage Lake Golf Course. She birdied the par-4 hole to cap her 3-under 69 round, an Upper Peninsula Girls Finals record. (Middle) Houghton's Megan Kelly watches her drive off the 10th tee. She finished second individually with an 82, leading the Gremlins' run to a third straight team title. (Photos by Stephen Anderson.)
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.
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 [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.)