Marian Continues D2 Dominance with 4th-Straight Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

June 18, 2021

EAST LANSING – Olivia DeConinck had a feeling Friday after she strode from her defensive position to join the Bloomfield Hills Marian attack on a corner kick. 

The Mustangs senior and Bucknell soccer signee didn’t make the run she typically would for a header, and that left her in perfect position to score the goal that put her team on track for a fourth-straight MHSAA Division 2 Girls Soccer Finals title. 

“I guess it was just instinct,” she said. “I’m not really sure, my body just kind of took over. I knew someone needed to be there, so I got there.” 

Marian’s 3-0 victory gave the program its ninth title overall, as its hold on Division 2 soccer in the state has lasted since 2017 and even spanned a canceled season. This year’s team finished 13-3-1 and did not allow a goal throughout the postseason, outscoring its opponents 26-0 over six matches. 

“We win because we have really good players,” Marian coach Barry Brodsky said. “They’re smart. They’re in the classroom very smart, and that makes coaching a pleasure.” 

DeConinck’s instinctive play didn’t lead to the winning goal, nor did it come late enough in the game to be considered a game-sealer. But in making the score 2-0 early in the second half, it may have been the goal that took the most wind out of a Spring Lake team that felt very in the game up until that point.  

When Marian freshman Elle Ervin extended the lead to 3-0 just 2 minutes, 30 seconds later, that became even more clear. 

“I think the 1-0 lead, it still kind of got in their heads that they were just one goal away, one opportunity away from tying it up and getting back in the game,” DeConinck said. “I think once we put that second in there, we kind of proved our dominance and it lifted our spirits up.” 

Spring Lake soccer

The goal came on what DeConinck described as a shot, but one she hoped one of her teammates could finish. She floated the ball to the opposite post, and it made its way into the net on its own. The official and the linesman conferred after the goal to make sure an offside Marian player had not had an impact on the play, and decided the goal stood. 

“She’s been a full-time player since her freshman year, she’s going to Bucknell to play – she's a stud,” Brodsky said. “You get some studs on your team and you’re going to have a good team, and she’s one of them. She won’t like me saying it, but her two sisters before her were the same. I’ve had a DeConinck on the team since 2014, and this was the last one. They’re special. She’s a stud player, and a stud athlete, and a stud student, and a stud person.” 

Ervin opened the scoring less than five minutes into the game, finishing after a goalmouth scramble. She had another chance midway through the first half, as she was left alone in the box for a header, but Spring Lake keeper Jessica Stewart was there to make the save. 

Ervin, a freshman, was the team’s leading scorer on the season with 24 goals, and she’s one of 17 players who could return next season. So, while the Mustangs will graduate seven senior starters, there’s plenty of firepower remaining. 

“Coming in at the very beginning, I did not know what to expect,” Ervin said. “I just knew we had a lot of people coming back with these seniors who had won two championships already, and I didn’t know what role I was going to play. Right when I came in, all of them were so accepting, and I was like, ‘Whoa, I am totally part of this team.’ We had our first couple games, and I realized I had to play a big role. I had to step up, even as a freshman.” 

Spring Lake (15-4-2), which was making its first Finals appearance, had its own opportunities in the half, mostly off the foot of junior forward Meah Bajt. She powered one off the crossbar not long after Ervin’s goal and created her own breakaway chance near the midpoint of the half, but her shot spun wide of the Marian net. 

The second half, however, was all Marian, as Mustangs keeper Izabel Toma had to make just one save in the game, and it came in the first half. Spring Lake’s Stewart, meanwhile, made eight stops. 

“It was a crazy, crazy ride,” Spring Lake coach Becky May said. “I just threw a bunch of kids out there – they were in middle school last year – and now they’re playing on this big stage. You could just tell they were young, and there were mistakes made that were young mistakes, and we’ll work on them. But they have a ton of heart, and we got farther than anybody ever thought we would.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Marian's Emily Rassel (17) considers her next move Friday while Spring Lake's Ryann Gilchrist defends. (Middle) The Mustangs' Elle Ervin (10) winds up for a shot with the Lakers' Kate Lewkowski (17) in pursuit.

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.)