By Tom Lang
Special for Second Half
EAST LANSING – For the South Lyon girls golf team, it was a first.
For Allison Cui of Okemos, it was number two.
And for all of the competitors Friday at Forest Akers West playing in the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals, it was a relief that there simply was a competition in the first place to conclude a season where the Covid-19 pandemic has had school programs, and society in general, on edge.
Last year’s Division 1 champion, Cui, won her second individual Finals title with a 2-under 70 – this time in Division 2 as her team dropped a slot in enrollment. As a freshman in 2018, when Okemos was also in Division 2, Cui tied for first but finished runner-up due to losing a one-hole playoff.
“I’m ecstatic. I really never imagined (two in a row),” Cui said. “I thought there was a chance I could win, but for it to happen, it’s just surreal.”
She said the competition in D2 was just as solid as playing last year in D1.
“I know a lot of the girls (in D2) and played with them over the summer,” Cui added. “They are really strong players, and any other day they could win this easily.”
Cui had a rough start to her day, scoring three consecutive bogies early. But in the middle of her round she carded five birdies over a span of six holes to fight back and then hold the lead. She admitted that made her a little nervous since the Finals this season were cut back from the traditional two-day, two-rounds format, to one 18-hole round to reduce the chances for spreading Covid-19.
“I think I was a little nervous going into it, because this year we don’t have that second day to bounce back if you have a bad first round,” she said. “But I think you have to have the same mentality. I was thinking take it one shot at a time and if you have a bad hole move on from it and make some birdies here and there.”
South Lyon won its first Finals team title in girls golf, after coming so close many times before. The program has won nine straight Regional titles, made 12 consecutive Finals trips and earned two runner-up finishes – last year and in 2014.
This time, the Lions ended Forest Hills Northern’s three-year hold on the Division 2 championship, shooting 335 to edge the Huskies by three strokes.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said long-time head coach Dan Skatzka. “We were so close so many times, and (with) so many great teams of girls. It wasn’t easy of course. (Forest Hills) Northern didn’t go down without a big battle. We’d be up by eight or nine strokes, then down to three, then back up to seven. As it came right down to the end it was literally like match play for about the last four holes. Someone would lose strokes, then someone else picked them up. Just a great team effort all the way.”
Skatzka wasn’t quite sure if playing just one round versus two was the difference maker in the outcome.
“We really didn’t think about it that way,” he said about not having a second round for a possible comeback scenario. “We looked at it as this is one shot, and we need to be ready from the beginning. We felt pretty good about playing here, and we felt pretty good about having a one-time shot at it. Whether it’s one round or two rounds, you have to put out your best effort from the beginning. The girls were so focused, and the hours and hours of extra putting, especially in these last couple of weeks, using all the putting drills we’ve used all season long. It always comes down to the putting.”
Leading the Lions were senior Katherine Potter at 1-over 73, good for individual runner-up; and reigning individual champ Gabriella Tapp, who finished tied for sixth with an 80. Senior Isabella Campbell tied for 11th.
Tying for third overall were Lilia Henkel of Northern and Olivia Stoll of Haslett.
“I’m just so appreciative to have been able to get this season in,” Skatzka added. “I feel so bad for so many teams that weren’t able to in the spring. We’re very fortunate to have gotten it in and not have any issues all along.”
He also noted that his golfers were focused on keeping to themselves and not getting sick, because they knew the entire season could end if there was Covid-19 detected on the team.
“We had that hanging over us this year in addition to the usual things,” he said, “so I’m very thankful.”
PHOTOS: (Top) South Lyon’s Gabriella Tapp takes aim during Friday’s Division 2 Final at Michigan State University. (Middle) Okemos’ Allison Cui drains a putt on the way to her second-straight individual title. (Click to see 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.)