Glen Lake Aims to Transform League Dominance Into Postseason Potential

By Tom Spencer
Special for

May 20, 2022

Meeting and exceeding expectations of the Northwest Conference has been little challenge lately for the Glen Lake girls soccer team.

The Lakers haven’t lost a conference match since 2019, also the last time they failed to win the conference championship.

On Monday, the Lakers have a chance to finish a second-straight undefeated league season when they take on Buckley, coming in at 4-5-4. The Lakers already have defeated the Bears this season, and no league opponent has come within six goals of catching them.

Glen Lake has scored 72 goals in league play and allowed just one.

But while the Lakers have fared very well against league competition over the last many years, they are eager to match that success in the MHSAA Tournament.

Fifth-year coach Eric Luthardt and the Lakers hope to get back to the deep postseason runs made under former coaches Andy Smith and Meg Murphy.

“Glen Lake girls have won quite a few conference titles in the years prior to me,” he said.  “It is almost expected, kind of like Leland winning the boys.

“People just assume — and there are teams that assume — we’ll win the conference. But the big one that has been missing for a while has been a District championship,” he continued. “So that’s the next step for us.”

As the second seed in their District, the Lakers will open tournament play May 31 against the winner of Charlevoix and Leland. Top-seeded Harbor Springs is on the other side of the bracket, awaiting the winner of Grayling and Suttons Bay.

Glen Lake soccerIf the Lakers secure the District title, they will take on the winner of the McBain District.  Host McBain Northern Michigan Christian has the number one seed there. The Lakers and the Comets have not met this season, and neither has faced Harbor Springs this spring.

“As far as accomplishments, we definitely want to win Districts, and I think we have a really strong chance at Regionals,” said Luthardt, who also serves as assistant coach on the Lakers boys team.  “Harbor Springs will be challenging.

“McBain (NMC) has a really good soccer program – the boys are really good and the girls are really good,” he continued. “Plus, it is playoff time.”

Buckley, which went undefeated in league play last fall and advanced to the boys Regional, is coached by John Vermilya on both the boys and girls sides. He’s been very impressed by the Lakers this spring.

“This year, the Lakers are untouchable for the rest of us in the Northwest Conference,” he said. “They have two or three girls that are good enough to have been starters on our boys championship team.”

Glen Lake has only 14 players on the roster. The Lakers have been forced to play considerable minutes with just 10 on the field due to injuries and illnesses.

They have been led by junior center mid Ruby Hogan and senior forward Jess Robbins. Both have 25 goals; Hogan adds 16 assists and Robbins 11. One of Robbins’ goals was scored on a free kick from the midfield stripe.

The Lakers also have benefited from sophomore Paige Steffke’s 15 goals and 14 assists and junior Gemma Lerchen’s 13 goals and 10 assists.

Sophomore goalkeeper Natalie Bailey has gained tremendous experience and confidence, Luthardt pointed out. She has 37 saves on the season and has allowed only 16 goals – nine of which came during the Lakers’ first three games of the season.

Glen Lake soccerA field player last year, Bailey recently has benefitted from the special coaching of Becca Nowicki, a former Lakers goal standout. Nowicki is back in the area after playing soccer in England last fall for the Macclesfield FC International Academy. Macclesfield bills itself as the United Kingdom’s leading private development academy.

“We want the goals, but the girls really want shutouts,” Luthardt noted.

The Lakers are 12-3 overall headed into the final regular-season game, and Luthardt is confident they have learned from their mistakes this season. Glen Lake’s defeats came to Division 1 Traverse City Central, the Traverse City West junior varsity and Division 3 No. 6 Elk Rapids.

“We had a couple of losses early in the season, which is a reminder of how far we’ve come,” he said. “We played panic ball.

“If we’re doing to go far, we’re going to have to correct that.”

Luthardt is enjoying the moment and taking things one day at a time. He anticipates much stronger conference opponents in the upcoming seasons resulting from developing community youth soccer programs.

Like Nowicki, other former players have shown a great interest in the Lakers’ efforts this year.

“It’s seeing the past Lakers players come to games and seeing how much they miss soccer,” Luthardt said. “Conference titles and these things are of course great, but it is the other stuff too that is really fun to see.”

Time will tell how far the Lakers go this tournament run.

“We want to try to get far as we can,” Luthardt said. “Obviously we have our eyes on the prize, you know, the one little thing, the Finals.”

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at 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) Glen Lake’s Gemma Lerchen (10) works to gain possession against Elk Rapids as referee Kevin Avery monitors the action. (Middle) Jess Robbins is tied for the Lakers’ team lead with 25 goals this spring. (Below) Ruby Hogan also has scored 25 goals, with a team-high 16 assists. (Photos by Jennifer Nowicki.)

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.)