By Mark Meyer
Special for Second Half
WILLIAMSTON – The postgame victory hugs late Saturday afternoon were twice as tight this time around and lasted just a little bit longer.
Junior midfielder Mickey Hostetler received hers from coach Jeff Corstange, as did junior defender Hayley Buckhout, senior goalkeeper Maggie Harma and sophomore midfielder Riley Wisser. Senior captains Tabitha Boze and Rachel Fouts savored theirs as did the rest of the victorious Blue Devils, who defeated Bloomfield Hills Marian 2-1 in the title game for the second straight season to finish 24-1-1.
Gull Lake won the 2013 title 1-0 in overtime over Marian, the 2012 champion.
“It’s an honor to represent the west side of the state in a game like this,” Corstange said. “The east side schools play a physical brand of soccer, and I felt like we answered that challenge. We were able to execute our game plan to the fullest.”
The intensity of this year’s rematch was evident throughout as the top-ranked teams (No. 1 Marian, No. 2 Gull Lake) traded excellent scoring opportunities throughout the game. Marian keeper Megan Bricely denied Blue Devils forward Kirsten Taylor three times in the first half from close range – twice on the same play when Taylor recovered the first shot only to be stopped on the rebound attempt.
“Last year we carried the play to them,” said Marian coach Barry Brodsky. “This year they had us back on our heels.”
Wisser opened the scoring for Gull Lake at 16:52 of the first half on a left corner kick that hooked sharply through a wall of Marian defenders.
“The key was to pressure their defenders,” Corstange said. “We wanted to be on the attack at all times and make sure they didn’t have an opening to get started.”
Marian’s Ellie Deconinck tied the game at 4:54 of the second half on a strong pass into the middle from Jaclyn Engel, who had recovered a corner kick block by Gull Lake’s Annie Walbridge. Engel dribbled along the left end line and connected with Deconinck, who found an opening inside the 6-yard box.
“I thought we had regained some of the momentum when we scored to tie it up,” Brodsky said, “but they were just deeper than us. They kept coming after us; they’re a very fit team.”
Senior forward Sydney Nikitas broke the tie at 19:43 by converting at short range after a driving pass from the right corner by junior forward Amanda Pavletic, hero of last year’s overtime triumph, to Boze, who pushed the ball to Nikitas in front of the goal.
“Unbelievable feeling to win it two straight years,” said Corstange, who has compiled a 58-7-3 mark in three seasons, to go along with his back-to-back titles. “This is an unselfish group. We use a lot of players, and they all know their roles. Great, great way to end the season.”
Marian finished the season 19-1-1 and allowed only seven goals all spring.
“Tough way to end it,” Brodsky said, “but’s let give credit (to Gull Lake). They earned it.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Richland Gull Lake players and coach Jeff Corstange embrace after securing their second straight Division 2 championship. (Middle) Marian’s Amy Stroud (14) and Gull Lake’s Hannah Phommavongsa work to control a loose ball Saturday.
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.)