By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
WILLIAMSTON – Usually, goals scored during the final minute of a half are considered backbreakers.
But there might have to be new terminology for what Bloomfield Hills Marian’s girls soccer team did in the final minute of the first half of Saturday’s Division 2 Final at Williamston High School.
One backbreaking goal wasn’t enough for Marian, which put its offensive firepower on full display by scoring two over the final 58 seconds of the first half to take a two-goal lead into halftime against Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern.
That proved to be the big momentum shift, as the Mustangs won their second MHSAA title in a row and seventh since 2003 with a 4-2 victory in what also was a rematch of last season’s championship game.
“Those were dynamite goals,” Marian head coach Barry Brodsky said. “To come back against us when we are up two is pretty difficult.”
Marian didn’t take long to get on the board, taking a 1-0 lead less than four minutes into the game on a goal by sophomore Chloe Aberlarde. She took a pass from Claudia Schilling and found herself alone in front of the Forest Hills Northern goal, burying the chance inside the far post.
Forest Hills Northern had an answer, tying the game at 1-1 with 14:02 left in the first half on a goal by Elyse DeSchryver, who fired a perfect shot from 30 yards out underneath the crossbar and into the net.
Forest Hills Northern appeared to be in good shape to go into halftime tied, until the Marian magic struck.
First, junior Jansen Eichenlaub got free down the right side of the field, dribbled towards the center of the goal and made no mistake, beating the keeper to make it 2-1 Mustangs with 58 seconds left before the break.
Then, with just 8.5 seconds remaining, senior Annie Bruce fired home a shot to make it 3-1 Marian.
Eichenlaub flicked a service into the box to Bruce’s feet to create the scoring opportunity.
“That got us pumped up,” Eichenlaub said. “We stress about the last five minutes and the first five minutes, so it was really big to win the last five minutes and get those two goals.”
Obviously, Forest Hills Northern was the opposite of pumped up going into halftime.
“The girls were tired, and we were hoping to get into halftime and regroup a little bit,” Forest Hills Northern head coach Daniel Siminski said. “They got a lot of momentum there, and it’s hard to dig yourself out of a hole like that against a team like Marian.”
The Mustangs scored to make it 4-1 with 32:13 left in the game on another goal by Bruce, who forcefully volleyed home a service into the box on a corner kick by Schilling.
Forest Hills Northern cut Marian’s lead to 4-2 with 29:10 remaining on another goal by DeSchryver, who got off a shot with her left foot from outside the box that once again went under the crossbar.
Marian completed its second consecutive unbeaten season, going 22-0-1 this spring after finishing 24-0 in 2017.
The Mustangs will enter the 2019 season on a 47-game unbeaten streak, with their last loss to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in a 2016 Semifinal.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Bruce said. “Usually we just try and stay together, and that’s exactly what we did. It was a team effort.”
It was the third straight loss in the championship game to Oakland County opponents for Forest Hills Northern (19-5-0), which fell to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in 2016 and Marian in 2017.
PHOTOS: (Top) Bloomfield Hills Marian’s Jansen Eichenlaub (9) works to keep possession surrounded by Forest Hills Northern defenders including Carly Andrus (14). (Middle) Forest Hills Northern’s Addie Brown, right, pushes the ball ahead while Marian’s Maria Askounis works to gain control.
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.)