Spring Lake Can't Be Caught in 3-Peat

October 15, 2016

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

BATTLE CREEK – Only one team could beat Spring Lake at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 girls golf tournament Saturday at Bedford Valley Golf Course.

That team was Spring Lake.

The Lakers fired a 343 on the first day to take a 13-stroke lead into the final round Saturday. In that final round, four of Spring Lake’s five players bettered their first-day score and another tied her Friday round as the Lakers sliced 24 strokes off their first-day score with a 319 to finish with a two-day total of 662.

Spring Lake’s winning margin was 35 strokes fewer than Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (697) but not nearly the rout of a year ago when the Lakers edged the runner-up team by 70 strokes.

It was the third consecutive title for Spring Lake, which became the first Division 3 team in MHSAA history to win three straight championships. The MHSAA Lower Peninsula tournament moved to four divisions from two classes in 1999, and prior to that, Grosse Ile won three in a row from 1996-98 in the Class B-C-D meet.

“Spring Lake has had only one other team win a state championship, and that was girls cross country, so to be a part of a team that won three consecutive state titles is something special,” said Spring Lake senior Anna Kramer, who tied for medalist honors but lost in a playoff to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep sophomore Danielle Staskowski.

Kramer, the reigning Division 3 individual champion, led Spring Lake with rounds of 78 and 75 for a two-day total of 153. Junior Madelyn Nelson was next with rounds of 89 and 79 for a 168 total. Her 10-shot improvement from the first day was the largest for Spring Lake.

“I think it was just first-day nerves,” Nelson said, “and my putting was a lot better (Saturday).”

Sophomore Hannah Klein, who had an eight-stroke improvement over the first round and finished 89-81 for a 170, echoed the feeling about first-day nerves.

“There were a lot of people watching, and I had to get used to it,” said Klein, the only sophomore on the team. “We were really focused on winning, and every shot counted. I felt like every shot had to be amazing to be able to pull out the win.”

Two other seniors rounded out the five players who took the course for Spring Lake. Jackie Olszewski duplicated rounds of 87 but did it in a strange fashion. She had 39 on the first nine and 48 on the second nine the first day and then flipped them on the second day with 48 on the front and 39 on the back.

“I went through a bad streak both days,” Olszewski said. “I had five or six terrible holes, and then I had to make it up. I just told myself to forget about it and do my best because I couldn’t change what had happened.”

While Olszewski’s 87 counted the first day, it wasn’t needed the second day as fellow senior Jaedyn Shelton went from 93 on Friday to 84 on Saturday.

“I’ve worked really hard over the years to get to this point, and it feels really good,” she said. “We all didn’t have great rounds on Friday, but we all improved, and that is what we were looking to do.

“For me, there were a lot of nerves, because it was my first time at states, so I was worked up, and I think that’s how everybody felt.”

Everybody, including coach George Bitner, whose extensive background brings plenty of experience while his grandfatherly nature brings comfort and confidence.

“This is like having six daughters,” said Bitner, who has coached girls golf at Spring Lake since 1980 and also coaches boys golf. He also has coached junior high football, track & field and wrestling, and he said it all adds up to 87 seasons.

“To win a state title, you have to have the talent,” Bitner said. “The results are what I like. It shows that I am getting through to them. The girls listen better than the boys, they drink more water than the boys, and they stick together and do things together. They are an unbelievable group of girls.”

Bitner calls Kramer “The Franchise” for obvious reasons.

“Anna is a practice-aholic,” he said. “She will come out of the clubhouse and go to the putting green for 30 minutes, go to the chipping area and sand for 20, go up for an hour on the driving range and then go back to the clubhouse, but first she spends another 30 or 40 minutes on the putting green. That’s her routine every day, and the other girls follow it.”

Although the Lakers won their third MHSAA Finals title, the day finished on a disappointing ending for Kramer. On the first playoff hole, Kramer ran a long putt well past the hole and three-putted as Staskowski parred the hole for the individual title.

“It’s tough to three-putt in a playoff,” Kramer said. “I read the putt fine. One of my friends came up to me after and said she had that putt Friday and you can’t tell how fast it is, and it just flew by the hole.”

Staskowski, who opened with an 80 on Friday, improved to 73 on Saturday to force the playoff. She was in the same pairing as Kramer, and they were tied after 12 holes and matched each other the rest of the way to set up the playoff on the par-5 No. 16.

“I love playoffs,” Staskowski said. “All my life when I have practice putting I will say to myself, ‘This is for the state championship,’ and then, there I was, standing over a putt that was for the state championship.”

Staskowski, who finished fourth last year, drilled the 4-foot putt right into the hole, and she said she knew she had it the moment she hit it. She chipped just short of the green with her third shot, while Kramer was on the green but was facing a very long putt.

“I felt like I could get the chip up there and then get it to the hole so I would have an easy putt,” Staskowski said. “I hit that putt maybe 50 times on the putting green, so when I stood over it, I was like, ‘You made 50 of these. You’ve got it,’ and then I hit the putt.”

Staskowski had parred the hole Friday and birdied it Saturday prior to the playoff.

“I started my round off with four bogeys (Saturday), and then I didn’t have a single bogey coming in,” she said. “I made three birdies, and once I got to the place where I felt like I was playing well, it just didn’t go away.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Spring Lake's golfers and coach hold up their third straight MHSAA championship trophy. (Middle) Plainwell's Madison Tran watches one of her approach shots. (Below) Pontiac Notre Dame Prep's Danielle Staskowski. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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.

Southeast & BorderSluss 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.

Sluss puts up a shot during last season’s Division 4 Semifinal at Breslin Center.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.”

Sluss plants a chip on the green. 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.)