Along with their clubs and cold-weather gear, and everything else necessary to win a tournament, a sign has accompanied the Muskegon Mona Shores girls golf team on every road trip this fall. It hangs in the team van and reads “Team Before Me,” and is signed by every member.
Each of the Sailors’ top six players, individually, could top most lineups in the state. But the sign serves as a reminder of what they can accomplish together.
Next weekend, Mona Shores can make MHSAA history.
The Sailors – recipients of a Second Half High 5 this week – are one of four Lower Peninsula teams that have won three straight MHSAA championships since the first Finals were played in 1973. A week from Friday, at The Meadows at Grand Valley State, Mona Shores will attempt to become the first team to win four in a row – keyed by four competitive seniors who played for the first three championship teams and have pushed each other toward one more fantastic finish.
“That’s what’s kept the adrenaline going with them. They want to beat each other, and they want to beat each other bad,” said Mona Shores coach John Brainard, who’s finishing his 16 seasons. “But still, they understand that it’s the team before me. We hang that note card up in the van before we go, and we’ve been trying to keep with that team concept.”
Seniors Morgan Smith, Hailey Hrynewich, Britni Gielow and Kelsey McKinley all have earned all-state recognition during their tremendous run, and all four were part of the lineups that won those first three MHSAA titles.
The 2009 team shot a two-day 666 at Michigan State's Forest Akers East to win Division 2 by 15 strokes, with then-senior Brooke Adamczak fourth individually, Hrynewich fifth and Smith sixth.
In 2010, the Sailors shot a 699 at Forest Akers West and won Division 2 by 26 strokes – this time with Hrynewich second individually and Smith fourth.
Mona Shores made it three straight last fall with a 27-stroke win, shooting a 661 at Katke-Cousins Golf Course at Oakland University. Smith finished third individually and Hrynewich tied for fifth, as all five Sailors shot 172 or lower.
The four seniors were beneficiaries of a good boost coming into high school, as Mona Shores was coming off a tie for fourth at the 2008 Division 2 Final. But this group was an obvious difference-maker; prior to 2008, Mona Shores hadn’t qualified for the Finals in at least a decade, and had never won an MHSAA title.
“If you would’ve asked me when they were freshmen four years ago, I would’ve said they were acquaintances,” Brainard said of his seniors. “But they’ve become competitive with each other, and they’ve grown and become friends.”
Mona Shores has won all of its events this fall, with tremendous scores along the way. The Sailors set their team record, 296, while playing in the O-K Black postseason tournament at The Meadows. At a jamboree earlier this season, Smith shot a 34 to break the individual nine-hole record, only to have Hrynewich card a 33 that same day – and then a 32 later on. Those two are tied for the school record for 18 holes at 70 strokes, both shooting that score at The Meadows – Hrynewich at the O-K Black preseason tournament and Smith at the postseason championship when the Sailors set their team record.
Good golf has become a part of Mona Shores culture. The boys team – featuring Hrynewich’s twin brother Reed – finished third at the Division 1 Final this spring. Brainard pointed to Oak Ridge Golf Club and the Muskegon Country Club because of how they've welcomed youth golfers, and the community's junior programs are thriving and filling the high school programs with talent.
The boys program has won four MHSAA titles, and it’s difficult to imagine the girls not equaling that total and extending their streak next weekend. Hailey Hrynewich won Wednesday’s Regional at Bowen Lake Links with a 76, followed by Smith with a 79 and Gielow and McKinley among those tied for third with 81s. Sophomore Rylee George’s score didn’t count toward the team title, but she finished 13th with a 93.
Hrynewich and Smith have taken their turns finishing first and second for the Sailors all season and sport stroke averages that again compare with the state's elite. Hrynewich averages 37 strokes for nine-hole matches and 74.8 for 18-hole events, while Smith – who has committed to play at Oakland next season – is averaging 38.8 and 76.1, respectively.
Right behind are Gielow (39.6/81.5) and McKinley (41/80.9). George (43.8/88.9) and freshman Sami Pyman (46.7/91.6) are among those expected to move up the lineup next fall, and have provided solid punch playing behind their older teammates.
Brainard said he and his seniors had a laugh recently remembering how some shot in the 90s and even north of 100 during freshman tryouts four seasons ago. But they’ve all improved significantly during this run, and they all know what it will take to finish what can become an unprecedented run.
“Yesterday we met at 7 (a.m.) to get in the van and go, and if it was a month ago that we had to meet at 7, they would’ve been dead tired,” Brainard said. “But they were flying high.
“They understand it. With golf, yesterday was the day they had to perform. Of all the tournaments and meets that we do, we want to win (now) and do the best that we can.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Mona Shores senior Morgan Smith lines up a putt during last season's Division 2 Final at Katke-Cousins Golf Course. (Middle) The Sailors, including coach John Brainard, accept their third-straight MHSAA championship trophy after last season's win.
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.)