Comeback Crusaders Come Through

June 14, 2014

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

MASON – It was not a premonition, but Hudsonville Unity Christian girls soccer coach Randy Heethuis picked the right tape to show his players at a team dinner Friday night.

It might have provided the added spark needed as Unity Christian rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit to defeat Detroit Country Day 3-1 on Saturday in the MHSAA Division 3 championship game at Mason High School.

It was the Crusaders’ eighth championship in the past 10 years and first since 2012.

“At our team dinner, we watched a tape of the 2012 Final that we were down 1-0 at halftime,” Heethuis said, “so we went into halftime and said, ‘This looks vaguely familiar. We just watched this last night.’

“I said, ‘Girls, we’re going to come back and win this one, too,’ and sure enough, they did it.”

Both teams came into the Final riding impressive defensive streaks. Unity Christian had allowed only one goal in its previous six tournament games, while Country Day had an eight-game shutout streak, including blank sheet the past six in the tournament.

So a 1-0 halftime lead in a game that featured just three shots on goal in the first half seemed somewhat safe. However, Unity Christian began the second half with more intensity after the halftime speech from Heethuis.

“At the end of the first half, we started putting a little more pressure on them,” he said. “We had probably three really good opportunities that just hit wide, and at halftime we talked about it. I said, ‘Girls, we’re OK.’ I asked them to believe, and I asked them to come out and play the hardest 40 minutes of their lives.”

The first payoff came in the 51st minute when senior forward Aubrey Schierbeek took a corner kick and scored from the left side. She was deep in the box, and the ball went over the head of the goalkeeper and fell into the far end of the net.

“I didn’t call it,” said Schierbeek, who is one of four Unity Christian players who are slated to play at Spring Arbor University. “Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to go in until I saw it in the back of the net.”

The goal came moments after a flurry in front of the net created the corner-kick opportunity, and Heethuis pointed out the importance of that part of the game.

“Tessa Glashower won a nice ball there, and she took a shot that the keeper tipped over the top that won that corner for us,” he said. “It’s the little things like that – the kid who steps up and makes a play that wins a corner for you is huge.”

Schierbeek struck again 16 minutes later for the tie-breaking goal from right in front of the net.

“Coach told me in a previous game that you’re not going to get a chance to dribble it around, so when you get the open shot, take it, and that’s exactly what I did,” said Shierbeek, whose two goals gave her 32 this season. “I had the opening, and I took the shot, and it happened to go in.”

With a 2-1 lead, the Crusaders had all the momentum, and just two minutes later Schierbeek assisted on a goal by Rachel Roerig, a junior forward who scored from in front of the net.

“Once we were level, I think the girls just relaxed a little bit, and then our intensity level really picked up,” Heethuis said. “Then we got a glimpse of watching us attack the way we’re capable of attacking.”

Unity Christian (23-1) finished with a 13-3 edge in shots on goal in the second half and finished with a 14-5 advantage. Country Day (21-4-3) had two shots on goal in the first four minutes of the game, including a goal by senior Michelle Manning, who took a rebound and scored from the left part of the box.

“I kind of broke in and didn’t have many options,” she said. “The goalie did a good job of covering the near post - and far actually when she stepped out - and I froze for a second and then tried to slip it by her,” said Manning, who plans to continue playing soccer at Northwestern. “I couldn’t slip it by her, so I kind of tried to poke it past her. It didn’t really work out, but it came right back at me and I put it in.

“Unity Christian came out a lot stronger than us in the second half. I felt like they kind of put us on our heels, and it took us a hard time to adjust.”

Unity Christian goalkeeper Abby Veeneman had four saves as the Crusaders held their opponent to fewer than two goals for the 22nd time in the 24-game season.

“I was a little worried when we were behind, but I have a lot of confidence in my team that we can come back,” said Veeneman, who plans to next go to Australia to do mission work with a youth group. “Our team knows how to defend well. They communicate, and they work good together.”

It was a tough defeat for Country Day, which was chasing its sixth MHSAA championship and first since 2004, which came against Unity Christian in the title game.

“Unity is an excellent team – an excellent team – and they’re the better team than we are,” Country Day coach Bob Bukari said. ”They have more weapons, they’re well coached, they’re well organized, they are strong in goal, they’re strong defensively.

“… Unity deserved the victory without a doubt. We hit the crossbar, and we could have scored a second goal in the first half that would have changed the whole complexity of the game. But we didn’t put our chances away, and they buried theirs.”

Click for the full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Unity Christian's Aubrey Schierbeek (22) pushes the ball ahead while Country Day's Libby Ronchetto (11) pursues. (Middle) Schierbeek and Bethany Balcer celebrate during Saturday's Division 3 Final.

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 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.)