T-K Making Good on Great Expectations

October 17, 2019

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

MIDDLEVILLE – The end of last season gave the Middleville Thornapple-Kellogg girls golf team a pretty good idea of what the future might hold.

The Trojans finished runners-up in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold, fourth at their Regional and were returning everyone the following season.

“I think it gave them a taste of like, we can do this,” T-K girls golf coach Bob Kaminski said. “They just had to make some improvements.”

The improvements Kaminski felt were necessary to get over the hump came to fruition, and the team made strides in reaching its goals.

The Trojans won the conference title over perennial powerhouse Grand Rapids South Christian and finished third at last week’s Division 2 Regional to qualify for the MHSAA Finals for the first time since 2005. 

The conference crown also was their first in 18 years, when they were part of the O-K Blue. 

“Last year we played really well,” Kaminski said. “We finished second in the conference and didn’t manage to get through Regionals, but we returned everybody for this year and we just felt like if they worked hard then we could improve and do good things.”

T-K will compete this weekend at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East Golf Course with a senior-laden group.

There are eight seniors on the varsity squad, with five among the top six. They’ve played together since middle school.

“We all started in seventh grade, and we all kind of talked about how we were going to be on the golf team together,” senior Anna Kaminski said. “We’ve all been pretty close for years, and so going through the entire high school golf journey together has been awesome. Our bond is pretty strong.”

Other seniors are Clair Jansma, Anna Harmens, Paige Willette and Maddie Shepard. Jansma has been one of the team’s best but did not play in the Regional, making the Trojans’ qualifying for the Finals even more impressive.

Junior Paige VanStee has the team’s lowest scoring average.

“Obviously, this feels great (to make it to the Finals),” Bob Kaminski said. “Four of the girls who played at Regionals are seniors, and they came onto the team three years ago as freshmen and they just worked hard. They’ve played really well this year and have had a really good season.”

A key factor in the Trojans’ success has been their ability to consistently drop scores.

From last year to this one, a steady decline in each girl’s scoring average has paved the way toward a Finals berth.

“We’ve seen a big jump this year,” Bob Kaminski said. “We actually looked at some stats, and a number of them improved three or four shots from what they were last year. It’s a hard-working group, and they’re always trying to get better.”

Kaminski has embraced the opportunity to coach his daughter, Anna.

“That has been a lot of fun,” he said. “It can be stressful at times because the role of a father and coach are sometimes vastly different, but it’s been enjoyable to watch her play and progress and get better.”

Anna Kaminski said the seniors were motivated to make their mark on the program and end the longstanding drought between Finals appearances.

“We came into the season kind of expecting to do pretty well,” she said. “We knew we had a decent team, and we thought if we could do well in the conference then we should make it to state.” 

And Jansma said the team was determined to take the necessary steps to heighten expectations. 

"We felt very motivated," she said. "We still wanted to have fun. (But) in the back of our minds, I think we were all looking to win it. We pushed ourselves, and we got the job done. 

"It felt so satisfying to work as hard as we did and have it finally pay off. For me, I spent quite a large amount of time working on my short game, and I remember spending hours on the driving range. I was itching to get out on the course with all my teammates." 

The Trojans won’t be considered among the favorites this weekend, but that won’t stop them from competing hard to earn the best finish possible.

“I’ve been trying to tell them to have fun and enjoy the experience, but they are a very driven group and they want to do as well as they can,” Bob Kaminski said. “Obviously you’re playing with the best teams in the state, so we don’t know how it is all going to end up. But they want to go there and compete and do the best they can." 

Added Anna Kaminski: “I’m not trying to put up a certain score or anything, and I just want to go and have fun. There are a lot of good teams out there, but hopefully we’ll do all right and play our best.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at dream100@comcast.net with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Thornapple-Kellogg’s Anna Kaminski watches an approach shot during competition this fall. (Middle) Junior Paige VanStee has been the team’s low scorer. (Photos courtesy of The Sun and News.)

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.)