By Chip Mundy
Special to Second Half
MASON – Midway through the first half of Saturday’s Division 4 Final, the Grandville Calvin Christian girls soccer team was behind for the first time in 17 games.
Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes/Clarkston Everest had a one-goal lead and was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Division 4.
Something had to give.
Calvin Christian wiped out that early one-goal deficit with a goal in the first half and a tie-breaker in the second to post a 2-1 victory over the Lakers and repeat as champion in a rematch of the 2012 title game. Last year, Calvin Christian defeated the Lakers 6-0 in the Final.
“We knew that they had everybody coming back, and they were hungry,” Calvin Christian coach Tim TerHaar said. “The score last year didn’t really represent the fact that it was two quality teams, and we knew that they would be ready to play, and they played a whale of a game.
“We played a good game and worked really hard, and to be honest, I feel fortunate to win this game because they played a great game.”
For the second year in a row, the Lakers entered the MHSAA championship game undefeated, only to return home with the runner-up trophy.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Lakers coach Katie Hearn said. “I don’t know, I think we just didn’t click (Saturday). We picked a bad day to have a bad game, that’s all.”
Senior Brianna Topolewski opened the scoring for the Lakers with an assist from Shelby Mann in the 19th minute. Mann sent the ball across the crease, and Topolewski kicked the ball in past the goalkeeper on the short side.
TerHaar said his team didn’t panic facing a deficit for the first time in weeks.
“I know that we’re a focused team, and we have confidence in our ability to fight back,” he said. “I was really pleased with our response to giving up a goal, that we came and kept pressuring.”
Ten minutes after Topolewski scored, sophomore Hilary Curry answered for the Squires. Curry took a pass from Whitney Koets and beat the goalkeeper on the short side, much like Topolewski did on her goal.
“That was a very important goal that we scored in the first half to be at level footing at halftime,” TerHaar said.
It didn’t take long in the second half for Calvin Christian to gain the advantage. Curry found sophomore Emily Van Vliet ahead of her racing toward the goal on the left side and sent her a perfect pass. Van Vliet then beat the goalkeeper on the far side, and she did it right-footed, even though the left-footed shot would have been easier.
“I’m not a strong left-footed kicker, so I decided to kick it with the outside of my right foot,” Van Vliet said. “I just knew that Hilary would get me the ball. I trust her, and we work really well together, and when she passed the ball to me, I just put it in the net.”
TerHaar praised both players for their part in the game-winning goal.
“It was a beautiful play,” he said. “Hilary Curry isn’t the biggest or the strongest or the fastest player, but she’s a technical genius. She had great vision there and picked out a slot to get the ball to Emily Van Vliet, who finished calmly with a beautiful goal.”
Curry finished with a goal and an assist and took pride in both.
“It’s always fun scoring, but putting us ahead was fun, too,” she said. “It was a closer game (than last year’s title game), which made it more fun and more intense. But it’s always fun to come out and be the champion.”
Calvin Christian (18-2-4) came into the game ranked No. 2 behind the Lakers despite a streak of 11 consecutive shutouts and 15 in their last 16 games. The Lakers likely were ranked No. 1 because they were undefeated and because Calvin Christian lost nine seniors from last year – a fact that rankled the players.
“It feels great for these five seniors,” TerHaar said. “We had read in lots of newspaper stories about how we lost nine seniors from last year. Our team took a little bit of offense to that. But that’s a fact, and we are still a very, very good team, and we’re proud to be state champs.”
The Lakers (20-1 and 38-2-2 over the last two seasons) had a chance to tie the game in the 75th minute when Megan Luttinen’s shot hit the crossbar and bounced over the net.
“It was close to bouncing in, too, so the margin between winning and losing when you have two really good teams is very, very small,” TerHaar said. “We feel very fortunate.”
Calvin Christian held a 9-4 edge in shots on goal as freshman goalkeeper Jordyn Postema made three saves but was denied her 20th shutout.
Calvin Christian is the first repeat champion in Division 4 since Kalamazoo Christian won back-to-back titles in 2007-08. Saturday also marked the first time the Division 4 Final featured a rematch.
“We squandered some chances, and they had some chances as well, with all due credit there. But we did have a couple of chances that probably should have been goals that could have changed the stressful last minutes a little bit,” TerHaar said, “but they played a great game.
“It was a great final.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Calvin Christian senior Carley Sikkema (4) works to control the ball against Waterford Our Lady/Clarkston Everest on Saturday. (Middle) The Squires’ Stephanie Thomasma (3) tries to take the ball from Lakers freshman Allison Maiorana. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.
Sluss 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.
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.”
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.)