Work Begins Again for Reigning Champ West

August 18, 2016

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

TRAVERSE CITY – Kristen Nolan is trying to avoid putting undue pressure on her Traverse City West golf team.

So talk about defending an MHSAA Division 1 championship has been kept to a minimum during the preseason.

“I don’t want my girls going into (the season) too confident because that can also be a negative,” the seventh-year coach said. “I want them focusing on individual goals instead of that full team goal of winning states again. As long as each player is working on their personal goals, the rest (will take care of itself).”

The unranked Titans pulled a surprise a year ago, edging first-day leader and tournament favorite Rochester in a tiebreaker to claim the Lower Peninsula D1 title.

Ironically, neither team had a senior in the lineup.

West returns its core group of Anika Dy, Hunter Kehoe, Grace Ellul, Madison McCall and Grace Warren. Dy, now a sophomore, finished runner-up for the individual title. She was one stroke back of medalist Julia Dean of Brighton.

Dy competed in an American Junior Golf Association tournament at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club this week and missed the Titans’ season-opening tournament, the Bob Lober Classic at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.

Dy missed a couple early tournaments last year as well, but when she returned to the lineup the Titans went on a roll, cruising to Big North Conference and Regional crowns en route to the MHSAA Finals championship.

“We got into a groove,” Ellul, a senior co-captain, said. “Hopefully, we can do the same this year.”

Most of the Titans spent considerable time on the links this summer, taking lessons and playing in several tournaments, notably in the Traverse City Junior Golf Association program.

“I highly encourage it,” Nolan said. “The girls love playing in it. It’s a little more low-key, not as competitive as high school golf, but it prepares them.”

Kehoe, also a senior co-captain, agreed.

“It allows us to focus and work on our games,” she said. “It’s a huge advantage coming into the fall.”

That focus has not shifted now that the high school campaign has arrived.

“We all have personal goals” Kehoe said. “Kristen does not want us to worry about going back to states and repeating what we did. She just wants us to work on our own games each and every tournament throughout the season.”

For Kehoe, who shot the Titans’ second-lowest score at the Finals last season, that means improving her approach to the game.

“I’m working on course management, really dialing in on target control,” the 17-year-old said. “I consistently shot 80 or low 80s last year. My goal is to be consistently in the 70s this year.”

Ellul, the Titans’ third-lowest scorer at the Finals, is stressing her mental outlook on the course.

“I get down on myself, get nervous, and it can ruin my game,” she said. “I need to learn to stay positive when I’m playing, not put myself down.”

Nobody was putting the Titans down last October when they rallied to win at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University.

West was in fourth place, five shots behind Rochester, after the opening day. But all five Titans golfers came back with lower rounds on the second day to give the school its first MHSAA girls golf title.

“Going into states our goal was top five,” Kehoe said. “We obviously knew there were a lot of good teams there. We did not expect to win it all. That was a huge surprise. It was amazing.”

After finishing their rounds, the Titans gathered in the clubhouse, away from the hubbub outside.

“We knew it was close,” Kehoe said. “All the parents were outside watching the scoreboard. We sat inside, too excited, too scared, to go outside and look.”

“It was nerve-wracking,” Ellul added. “We were trying to not get our hopes up, but we had to. When we found out we had won, it was crazy.”

Kehoe’s younger brother, Murphy, is the one who informed the team of its triumph.

“We walked out and immediately started crying and hugging our parents,” Kehoe recalled. “It was super surreal.”

How close was it? West and Rochester tied at 685, forcing officials to go to each team’s fifth golfer’s score over the tournament. Warren’s two-day 193 beat her rival’s to give West the title.

It kicked off a celebration that spilled over into the weekend and the following Monday at school when all of West’s sports teams held a reception for the champs in the school’s common area.

The team later custom-designed their own championship rings, which were presented at halftime of a boys basketball game.

“Thinking back on it, you forget how crazy it is to win the Division 1 state finals,” Ellul said. “Our school, and town, were so proud and supportive of us. They made it such a big deal. That was really nice.”

The Titans know they will not be able to take any team by surprise this season.

“Obviously, all eyes are on us,” Kehoe said. “We’ve been working hard this summer trying to improve our games. Our confidence is through the roof, but we’re all trying to maintain a calm, steady mindset so we don’t get too excited.”

Nolan likes what she has seen thus far.

“They definitely have that drive to try and win back-to back-state championships,” she said. “They’re definitely more eager. They’ve been putting in quite a bit of effort to get there.”

First things first, however.

“We can’t worry about an end-of-the-season result right now,” Kehoe said.

There’s work to be done.

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City West hoists for the first time Oct. 17 its first MHSAA girls golf championship trophy. (Middle) Anika Dy lines up a putt during last season's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final. (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.)