Westwood's Aces Finish with Four

June 21, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Neither Megan Manninen nor Berkley LaFreniere had seen their complete body of work all in one place before coach Jared Koski laid it out on a table at Ishpeming Westwood’s girls golf team banquet earlier this month.

Standing tall among a number of accolades were four MHSAA Finals championship trophies.

“It was exciting. It was the first time I really saw them all together,” LaFreniere said. “It’s a great accomplishment. Coming into high school, I didn’t think anything of (being able to do) it.”

Only a few have achieved that feat. It’s the fourth such streak in 35 years of the Upper Peninsula Girls Finals.

But what makes this one stand out is that the championships came across two divisions – the Upper Peninsula is split into three – with Westwood, a school of roughly 350 students, winning three in Division 2 and the fourth in Division 1 against schools with two and three times more students.

The first three titles were won by nearly the same group of players. Three new ones filled in this spring. And the constants on all four were Manninen and LaFreniere, the recipients of Second Half's final High 5s of 2011-12.

Three times – in 2009, 2011 and this season – Manninen was medalist. This spring, she won with an 87, while LaFreniere finished second with a 90.

They’ve been good friends since first grade and grew closer still when both started playing more basketball together during sixth. Manninen was the Patriots’ 5-foot-4 point guard during the winter, and LaFreniere, at 5-9, was one of her post players.

LaFreniere also played No. 1 doubles in the fall as Westwood's tennis team won its third-straight MHSAA Finals in that sport. And Manninen has signed to play hoops next season at Lake Superior State University.

“Golf is a game where you’re out there alone. You either get it or you don’t … and they’re used to that pressure,” said Koski, who also is Manninen’s uncle. “They’re competitive, and academically also, fighting for grades and standing in their class and in (National) Honors Society. They are a little more seasoned.”

Despite a season often affected by weather – Koski said his players usually don’t get outside until April, and the Finals this spring were May 31 and June 1 – Manninen and LaFreniere both averaged 45.3 strokes for nine holes.

And Manninen continued her strong play despite missing nearly three weeks of practice while traveling to the University of Michigan hospital to visit another uncle and huge sports supporter, Jamie Reichardt, before he died May 14.

Those hospital trips helped Manninen decide to pursue a degree in pre-med. And that sad event led to one of the most touching stories of this spring’s tournaments. At the Final at Newberry Country Club, Manninen carried in her bag a sleeve of balls that had belonged to her uncle and were labeled with his nickname “Colonel.”

She played the entire 18 holes using just one ball.

“That was some extra motivation,” Manninen said. “I told myself I couldn’t lose that ball.”

Both girls got their golfing starts at Wawonowin Country Club in Champion, about three miles west of Ishpeming – Manninen’s father Kevin manages the course and LaFreniere’s father Paul is a longtime member. The girls grew up playing Marquette County Junior Golf Association events together. Both got their toughest individual competition from each other most of the last few seasons, but neither thought about it that way.

Their performances at the top made a difference throughout the line-up. Koski said the pair would build a 20-stroke lead against the opposing top-two players, which allowed the Patriots’ 3-5 players to work on holding their own instead of facing pressure to put up a low number.

“They drive themselves the best they can,” Koski said. “They’re both good students, and they know how to make good decisions on the course. (And) they don’t like to lose.”

Click to read more about their favorite players and future plans

PHOTOS: (Top) Ishpeming Westwood's Berkley LaFreniere and Megan Manninen pose after all four of the Patriots' Finals wins in 2009, 2010, 2011 and this spring. (Middle above) LaFreniere finished runner-up at this season's Final at Newberry Country Club. (Middle below) Manninen won her third individual championship this spring, this time shooting an 87. (Bottom) LaFreniere (left) and Manninen pose with their four trophies and various other accolades during the team banquet earlier this month.

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.)