By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
BATTLE CREEK – As the Birmingham Seaholm girls golf team gathered Saturday in the clubhouse of the Bedford Valley Golf Course, the body language of the girls suggested they might not have played well.
They were somber. They hugged. They cried. However, they actually played well enough to win their third consecutive Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship, and the emotion they were showing was the sadness of losing 11 seniors to graduation, including three who played this weekend.
“It was more sadness that it was the end of their high school careers,” said Seaholm coach Cathie Fritz, a co-coach along with Leon Braisted.
Seaholm’s fourth MHSAA championship came with a score of 664, 13 strokes ahead of runner-up Midland Dow and 28 ahead of third-place South Lyon. But it was closer than scores made it appear.
After play Friday, the leaderboard was quite jumbled as four teams were within 13 strokes of first-day leader Seaholm (335). Midland Dow was second (337), St. Joseph third (344), South Lyon fourth (347) and Okemos fifth (348).
Seaholm senior Allegra Cunningham explained the team’s strategy going into the second day with a slim lead.
“We did not have a score in mind,” she said. “We had a goal of just beating the girls in our group, or at least staying as close to them as possible so nobody could get too far away.
“My sophomore year we came back from 17 down to win by one, so every shot seriously counts, and we just focused on the notion that everything counts.”
Seaholm’s second-day score of 329 was at least 11 strokes better than the rest of the field, and senior Catherine Markley led the way with a 79 after a first-day 85.
“I was just hoping to do better than yesterday, and I didn’t expect to do this well, so I’m really proud of myself,” Markley said. “This was a roller-coaster of emotion, especially at the end.
“I was so nervous to finish, but at the same time I knew it was my last hole of high school golf, so it was really emotional, but I’m really excited that it ended so well.”
Cunningham, who delivered back-to-back rounds of 82, had high praise for Markley.
“Our team really pulled it together, and Catherine Markley, she’s MVP,” Cunningham said. “She had 79 and everybody played amazing. We could not be happier with how the girls played today.”
Seaholm’s steady scoring was the ticket to the title. The eight scores used toward their total ranged between 79 and 89. In addition to the scores by Cunningham and Markley, Jordan Michalak had 80 and 79 to lead the team with a 159 total, and Hailey Roovers added rounds of 88 and 89.
“We have focused this season in getting the girls to think in the here and not look ahead or behind at previous holes,” Fritz said. “They were really in the here and now, and that made a huge difference.”
Seaholm also used Cate Joelson on Friday and Emma Whittington on Saturday, but neither figured in the top-four scoring. Joelson said watching on Saturday was tougher than playing on Friday.
“You’re kind of biting your nails watching your teammates and hoping for them to do well,” she said.
Michalak’s effort was good enough to earn her a tie for third place individually, but she was left with a feeling of frustration after a triple bogey on her final hole. A par would have put her in a playoff for the individual championship.
“I had a bad last hole of high school golf, but that’s OK. I still finished great and it was enough to be top three,” she said. “I was so overwhelmed with emotion, both good and bad, and the tears were definitely flowing.
“I knew that it was close, and I was a little bit worried. But then I came in and it really didn’t matter, and everyone else was pleased with their own scores.”
The individual MHSAA championship went to Muskegon Reeths-Puffer freshman Karina VanDuinen, who followed a first-day 82 with a 74 to edge Stephanie Carras of Midland Dow by two strokes. VanDuinen sat in the front row as the scores were put on the big board one by one.
“It was harder watching than it was playing,” she said shortly after learning that she had won the championship. “I’m trying not to cry right now, and I’m just shaking.”
VanDuinen is just 14 years old, and she has been playing golf for just three years. Her parents, Mike and Christa, knew immediately that she was gifted in golf.
“She was in the high 90s in her first week, and the second week she was in the 80s, and it went from there,” her father said.
VanDuinen won the regional with a 71 but soared to a first-day 82 at the MHSAA Final, leaving her five strokes off the pace going into the final day. It was a deficit she knew she could overcome, but she also knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“I knew if I shot low enough there was a chance, but I didn’t think I was actually going to do it,” said VanDuinen, who had a second-day 74. “I thought I needed to shoot 72, so I didn’t think it was going to be good enough.
“My drives and putting were definitely good, though.”
VanDuinen’s parents said the difference between Friday and Saturday was simple: Putting.
“Her putts weren’t falling Friday like they did today,” her mother said.
“I actually think she hit the ball better Friday than she did today, but she made the putts today,” her father said.
VanDuinen started her second round with five pars and a birdie through the first six holes and went on from there to win. As a freshman, she has the opportunity to win four MHSAA Finals titles, but she knows that won’t be easy.
“I’m going to try,” she said, “but right now, one time is good enough for me.”
Portage Northern senior Morgan Janke-Wolff had a highlight of her own with an eagle on the par-5, 378-yard fourth hole. She chipped in from about 10 yards off the green.
PHOTOS: (Top) Birmingham Seaholm poses with its MHSAA championship trophy Saturday at Bedford Valley. (Middle) Seaholm’s Hailey Roovers follows through on an approach shot. (Below) Muskegon Reeths-Puffer freshman Karina VanDuinen unloads a shot on her way to the individual title. (Click for more from 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.)