By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
EAST LANSING – For all the success the Bloomfield Hills Marian soccer team has enjoyed over the last two decades, the 2019 Division 2 Final offered the Mustangs a chance to achieve two things for the first time.
One, Marian won three consecutive championships for the first time in school history with a thrilling 2-1 overtime win over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern. All three of those titles have come via victories over Forest Hills Northern in the title game.
Second, Michigan State University’s DeMartin Stadium provided a new venue for Marian to win its eighth title since 2003. Marian had won its titles in Richland, Grand Rapids, Troy and Williamston, but never had appeared in a Final held at MSU.
“The last time we won two in a row, we got knocked out on the first night (of the playoffs),” Marian head coach Barry Brodsky said. “We did let them know that there has only been two Marian players since I’ve been here that have won three state championships, and they weren’t in a row. Now, we have seven or eight who have just joined those two.”
The game-winner came with 4:18 remaining in the second period of overtime, off Marian’s 12th corner kick of the game.
Marian senior Sara Stroud delivered the ball into the box, and amidst a flurry of bodies, sophomore Maria Askounis put the ball into the net to make it 2-1 Marian.
“My coaches told me to stay at the far post, and so I stayed on the far post,” Askounis said. “That’s where the ball went, and I just tapped it in. I scored last game, but not like this in the state championship. It feels amazing.”
The Mustangs were frustrated at not being able to convert any of their previous 11 corner kicks in the contest, but ultimately it was a corner kick that was good to Marian again.
Brodsky said game-winning goals in the Catholic League final and in a 1-0 District win over Detroit Country Day also came on corner kicks.
“It’s not a secret,” Brodsky said. “You play great defense and you do great on restarts, you’re going to win a lot of games.”
Marian also won despite having to play the late stages of the game without all-state Dream Team forward Jansen Eichenlaub, who will play next at University of Virginia.
Eichenlaub suffered a hamstring injury with 18 minutes left in regulation and didn’t return.
It was more heartache for Forest Hills Northern, which has frustration that stretches beyond losing to Marian three straight years in the Final.
The Huskies lost for the fourth straight time in the championship game and fifth time since 2010.
Forest Hills Northern lost in the 2016 title game to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and in the 2010 Final to Marian as well.
If there is a silver lining for the Huskies, it’s that they will graduate just two seniors.
“If we didn’t come out and play good, I would be more upset about it,” Forest Hills Northern head coach Daniel Siminski said. “It was a pretty even game I thought, which was a far cry (from) two years ago. We are getting there.”
Forest Hills Northern took a 1-0 lead with 34:21 left in the first half on a goal by sophomore Grace Sayers, who took a beautiful lead pass along the ground from junior Alyssa Greshak in the box and buried the chance inside the far post.
Marian tied the game 1-1 with 35:57 left on a goal by sophomore Emily Rassel, who pounced on a loose ball in the box and placed a shot underneath the crossbar.
Eichenlaub flicked a pass into the box to Rassel after senior Katie Sullivan placed a cross toward Eichenlaub.
Marian carried the play in overtime and had a glorious chance with six minutes left in the first extra period when two Mustangs players broke in all alone on Forest Hills Northern goalie Parker Hutchinson, who made an initial save.
But the ball ricocheted to another Marian player, who shot the ball wide with nothing but the goal in front of her.
Ultimately though, Marian got the winning goal it needed, and added more history to its already storied program.
PHOTOS: (Top) Marian hoists the championship trophy after Saturday's Division 2 Final win over Forest Hills Northern. (Middle) Megan Kraus gathers a shot for the Mustangs.
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.)