EAST LANSING – Madison Salzenstein watched her shot hit the back of the net Friday with 8 minutes, 28 seconds to play in the MHSAA Division 3 Girls Soccer Final, and finally allowed herself to believe the job was done.
The Detroit Country Day senior spun toward her teammates at the edge of the six-yard box and let out a scream.
“I knew we were state champs right then,” she said.
Salzenstein scored a pair of goals to lead the Yellowjackets to a 3-0 victory against Boyne City at DeMartin Soccer Complex at Michigan State University. The win gave Country Day its sixth soccer title, and first since 2004.
“Euphoric is the only way to describe it,” said Country Day senior Calihan Bearden, who scored the other Yellowjackets goal. “We’ve been waiting so long with this group. We knew it was possible. Last year really set us back, but we knew this year was the year. It’s awesome.”
Country Day’s seniors fittingly came up with the big moments while getting the program back to the top, as the team was dominated by the Class of 2021, with 12 on the roster and eight in the starting lineup.
“There’s definitely been pressure,” Salzenstein said. “We knew that on paper, this team has many, many talented players, and we just knew that we had the talent to do it, we just had to get it done. We had a lot of pressure, but we were able to push through and get to it and we were able to win. So, it was amazing.”
Country Day (17-2-2) owned the game in the midfield, not allowing Boyne City’s sister tandem of Jordan and Taylor Noble to get going and threaten Yellowjackets keeper Lila Bienhold. The Nobles had combined for more than 60 goals during the season, but Bienhold didn’t have to make a save, only getting involved when she expertly read long balls and played them back up field.
The combination of Bearden, Olivia Sappington, Sophie Enrud, Sarina Yu, Lilly Glaza and Jacqueline Sarafa playing the midfield and Country Day’s high defensive line were stout from the opening whistle to the final horn.
“It was just a matter of knowing where (the Nobles) were at on the field and respecting the speed and their quick counter,” Country Day coach Laura Hamway said. “The system we played, we were up a number on them in the central midfield, so we were able to possess like a constant triangle around them and go out the other way.”
Boyne City coach Eduardo Fantozzi knew coming in that his team was up against a tough opponent, and seeing Country Day up close was just as impressive as he anticipated.
“Their speed is – they pass well, they’re all technically strong, and they have great speed from the back to the front,” Fantozzi said. “That’s a tough team to beat. That’s why they beat Troy Athens, the team that’s in the Division 1 state finals tomorrow. That’s the reason why. What are you going to do with that?”
While Country Day had controlled the majority of the first half with possession, its breakthrough came on the counter.
After dealing with a Boyne City free kick, the Yellowjackets sprung Victoria Miler down the field, and the dangerous freshman was brought down in the box, earning her team a penalty. Bearden left no doubt, powering the spot kick into the back of the net and giving her team a 1-0 lead with 10:11 remaining in the first half.
“So stressful,” Bearden said. “I’ve never missed one in practice, so I knew if I just focused I would be fine. It was a little close to the middle for my liking, but it’s OK, it went in. A goal is a goal.”
Up to that point, Boyne City had done a good job of limiting Country Day chances despite spending most of that time on the defensive. The Yellowjackets’ best chance early was a Gigi Gallette shot from outside the box which rattled the crossbar. Miller also created a chance, dribbling through the center of the Boyne City defense, but the ball was swallowed up by Boyne City keeper Maggie McHugh before Miller could get off a shot.
Country Day’s Yu nearly doubled the lead during the final minutes of the half, just missing the top corner on a volley off a corner kick.
The Country Day assault continued early in the second half, and Salzenstein had a pair of big chances within a minute. The first was thwarted by McHugh, while Salzenstein took advantage of the second, beating a defender at the top of the 18-yard box and sliding the ball past the Boyne City keeper to give her team a 2-0 lead with 36:16 to play.
Salzenstein put away what little doubt remained with 8:28 to play, scoring her second goal off an assist from Jordan John.
Boyne City (21-2-2) was making its first appearance in an MHSAA Final and defeated perennial power Hudsonville Unity Christian in the Semifinal to reach it. While it ended in a loss, Fantozzi and the fans who packed into the stands Friday saw the season as an absolute success.
“We’re the only Boyne sports team to ever make it to a state final in school history,” Fantozzi said. “For the community, you saw them out there, it’s amazing. We had great support. They love these kids. But that’s what it’s all about.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Country Day’s Gigi Gallette (27) and Boyne City’s Inanna Hauger work to gain possession during Friday’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) The Yellowjackets’ Lily Glaza (14) sends a pass just past Boyne’s Ava Maginity.
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.)