Spring Lake Rallies, Claims 1st Finals Win

October 18, 2014

By Tom Kendra
Special to Second Half

EAST LANSING – You could say that Spring Lake golf coach George Bitner was due.

Bitner, who started coaching boys golf at Spring Lake in 1968 and founded the school’s girls golf program in 1980, reached the pinnacle Saturday when his girls team rallied for the school’s first-ever golf MHSAA championship at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final at Forest Akers East.

“This is a different bunch,” explained Bitner, who calls himself 77 years young. “They are range rats that just want to get better. You can’t ask for much more than that.”

The Lakers delivered the old golf coach his first MHSAA title in dramatic fashion, erasing a six-stroke deficit to Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood after Friday’s opening round near the campus of Michigan State University.

Spring Lake sophomore Anna Kramer finished second overall with scores of 78 and 75, keying the Lakers’ Saturday charge as all five players improved their score from Friday for a surprisingly wide 18-stroke victory.

Spring Lake finished with a two-day total of 659, Cranbrook-Kingswood was second at 677, followed by defending champion Detroit Country Day (703), Grosse Ile (704) and Warren Regina (718).

“We were behind after the first day, but not by much, so our goal was for all of us to play a little better and that’s exactly what happened,” said Kramer, who drove the ball well all day to improve on her fourth-place Finals finish last fall as a freshman.

While it was a tough day for Cranbrook, which placed second for the third consecutive year, senior Cordelia Chan capped her stellar career for the Cranes by repeating as Division 3 medalist.

Chan fired her second consecutive 75 in the cold, windy conditions to hold off Kramer by three shots. Emily Barker of Lake Odessa Lakewood placed third at 160.

“I wasn’t actually swinging very well, but the course was open enough where it kind of played to my mistakes,” Chan explained. “I worked on my game last night with my dad so that kind of helped – with my tee shots, especially.”

Freshman Kate Cao was second for Cranbrook at 172 and senior Molly Wiener third at 174.

The same three teams finished 1-2-3 last fall as well, just in different order. Country Day and Cranbrook actually tied for first, but the Yellowjackets prevailed on the fifth-player tiebreaker. Spring Lake took third.

This year, Spring Lake was the team that made the biggest adjustments between Friday’s opening round and the close of play Saturday afternoon. 

All five of the Lakers’ players improved their score by at least two strokes, with the biggest moves coming in the middle of the lineup. Junior Kayla Krueger shot 87-81-168 and senior Ginnie Olszewski shot 83-79-162. Junior Emma Conroy (90-86-176) and freshman Madelyn Nelson (90-88-178) rounded out the Spring Lake scoring.

Olszewski, the only senior in the Spring Lake top five, achieved her goal of breaking 80 on Saturday despite a quadruple bogey on her final hole. It was quite an improvement from her freshman year, when she shot rounds of 117 and 116. 

“We went from basically nothing in my freshman year to state champs in my senior year, so that feels really, really, really good,” Olszewski said. “It’s so cool that it wasn’t just one of us. Everyone stepped up, which is awesome for Coach Bitner.”

Bitner, who was inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1996, has built his coaching philosophy around the acronym “kismif” – keep it simple, make it fun. 

He believes that emphasis helped his girls relax and go out and play their most impressive team round of the season Saturday.

“I honestly wasn’t worried with the six-stroke deficit one bit,” said Bitner, who started his coaching career 50 years ago as the boys track coach at Holton High School in 1964. “The girls were so focused. They just went out and did it.” 

Bitner, who gave a golf lesson to his wife, Eunice, on their first date, has had the privilege of coaching both of his children, Alyson and Andy, at Spring Lake. And just because he has now won an elusive MHSAA Finals championship, he has no plans to stop coaching.

“I don’t know what I’d do if I retired,” said Bitner, who will head with his wife next week to his winter home in North Fort Myers, Fla., where he stays until returning in early March to coach the Spring Lake boys golf team. “And besides, I have four of my top five players back and I had to leave quite a few more good players off for state.”

Spoken like a coach who is just getting started. 

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PHOTO: Spring Lake golfers pose with their first-ever MHSAA championship trophy Saturday at Forest Akers East. (Photo courtesy of the Grand Haven Tribune.)

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 [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.)