Wind, Hail Can't Stop Repeat Champs

October 20, 2018

By Steve Vedder
Special for Second Half

ALLENDALE – Ignoring the worst actually brought out the best in Alissa Fish.

The Brooklyn Columbia Central senior thumbed her nose at woeful conditions to successfully defend her Lower Peninsula Division 4 girls golf championship Saturday at The Meadows on the Grand Valley State campus. Fish finished with a two-day total of 162 to outdistance runner-up Hillary Ziemba of Jackson Lumen Christi, who finished with a 167.

The brutal weather conditions featured frigid temperatures in the mid-40s, a bone-chilling high wind warning, bouts of thunder and lightning which caused a long delay and even sideways hail.

Not a problem, said Fish, who admitted she's never played in worse conditions after shooting a 5-over par 77 on Friday and an 85 on Saturday.

"It was pretty tough," she said. "You just have to get lost in your shot. If the wind is blowing in your face, you've still got to make the shot. You have to hit the ball like the conditions were normal.

"(Friday) I was satisfied with how I played. The weather was worse today, but I still expected to do better. I won but I left (some shots) out there."

While Fish successfully retained the individual title, Harbor Springs also won back-to-back team championships by shooting a two-day 362-368-730. Shepherd was runner-up with a 369-381-750. North Muskegon was third with a 381-373-754 and Kalamazoo Hackett, the tournament leader after the first day, was fourth at 359-398-757.

Harbor Springs coach Pete Kelbel agreed with Fish that the conditions were miserable. But his players, including four veterans from last year's club, were able to overcome the wind and rain. They also faced a tough field as North Muskegon returned all five players from last year's fourth-place finisher and was ranked No. 1 in the state. In addition, six of last year's top 10 individual placers returned.

"It was the worst two days weather-wise I've seen," he said. “My hats off to Grand Valley for their work. The course was wonderful, but you couldn't pay people to play today."

Kelbel said the goal of repeating actually began after winning the 2017 tournament. Four of the leading scorers returned this fall, including four-year varsity seniors Callie O'Neill and Madi Bezilla, who tied for eighth this weekend with 175s.

The Rams won seven of 10 tournaments they entered this season, losing only to reigning Division 1 champ Traverse City West and Shepherd.

"It's very hard to repeat, especially when the weather gets like this," Kelbel said. "We knew we had four girls back, so we knew we could be good. We were fortunate to have them back."

Kelbel said battling the conditions was as much mental as physical.

"It was a mental toughness thing," he said. "We have a shorter season, so we're playing when the courses open in the spring."

Fish said she didn't necessarily feel pressure in her bid to win back-to-back titles. Battling the weather was no help, but she said players have to overcome whatever conditions are presented. In addition to the two Division 4 titles, Fish was a three-time conference and Regional champ. Of the team's seven tournaments this season, she won six.

"It's not always about winning; it's about wanting to play well,"' she said. "You have to get lost in the moment. Pressure makes it more fun – I like pressure, that's what I play for. I thrive on pressure."

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PHOTOS: (Top) Harbor Springs senior Madi Bezilla follows her shot during Saturday’s second round of the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final at The Meadows. (Middle) Brooklyn Columbia Central’s Alissa Fish lines up a putt. (Click to see more from

3-Sport Standout Sluss Gives Lenawee Christian All-State Boost for Every Season

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

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.)