North Muskegon Surges Again to Cap Storybook Season

By Tom Kendra
Special for

June 19, 2021

EAST LANSING – Caleb Parnin has been playing a little mind game on his North Muskegon girls soccer team all season long.

“We’ve been telling the girls all year that we are a second-half team,” said Parnin. “Honestly, part of that is just brainwashing them to believe it, and then hoping they make it a reality.”

It proved to be masterful strategy by the first-year coach, as the Norse worked their second-half magic again Saturday. They turned a 1-0 halftime lead into a 5-0 runaway over Royal Oak Shrine Catholic in the MHSAA Division 4 Final at Michigan State University’s DeMartin Soccer Complex, clinching the first Finals championship in program history.

Hope Johnson, NM’s senior leader and top scorer, set up sophomore Jaley Schulz for the lone goal of the first half in brilliant fashion – then started the second-half onslaught with a breakaway goal seven minutes after the restart.

Emily Olsen, Katie Kinahan and Audrey Wilson also tallied for North Muskegon, which finished with a 20-1-1 record.

Johnson, who has played with many of these teammates since she was 4 years old, said they were excited for the chance to play on the state’s biggest stage.

“We were always waiting for the next challenge and for the opportunity to show what we can do,” said Johnson, who added two assists to finish with 37 goals and 23 assists this spring. “Today was that day.”

North Muskegon dominated the game, finishing with a 22-6 edge in total shots and a 12-2 advantage in shots on goal.

That performance was a continuation from the second half of Wednesday’s Semifinal win over top-ranked Grandville Calvin Christian, when the Norse scored two goals after halftime in a 2-0 win. NM allowed only one second-half goal the entire season.

Royal Oak Shrine, which was the reigning Division 4 champion after downing Kalamazoo Christian 4-0 in the 2019 Final, finished 14-4-1 and lost its first game since April.

The Knights played their best soccer in the final 20 minutes of the first half, controlling play for a long stretch after Schulz’s opening goal.

Shrine was ultimately denied by the Norsemen’s stingy defense, led by senior Sophia Schotts and junior Grace VanderWoude. The other defensive leaders for NM were junior Molly Stewart and freshmen Abby Martinez and Kennedi Koekkoek.

North Muskegon soccer“This season was something special,” said 21st-year Shrine coach Mark Soma, who had just three senior starters. “Things got away from us in the second half, and a lot of that had to do with being young and tired and making mistakes.”

On the rare occasions that the Knights got past the Norse defense and had scoring opportunities, NM senior keeper Syann Fairfield shut the door.

Fairfield, the daughter of Muskegon High School football coach Shane Fairfield, showed her toughness by coming well out of her box and challenging shots repeatedly.

“Syann is so tough, and she was determined to get that shutout,” said Parnin, who is assisted by Chris Wilson, Pete Johnson, Adam Schulz and goalkeeper coach Kim Gorbach. “She senses things and goes out and stops them before they happen. Nothing she does surprises me.”

The early part of the game was played in a steady rain, but by early in the second half the rain had moved out, leaving dry and extremely calm conditions.

It was a perfect stage for Johnson to work her magic, repeatedly drawing Shrine’s defenders to her with her breakaway speed and then dropping the ball off to her teammates. A perfect example came on the opening goal, when Johnson dribbled the ball across the goal mouth, bringing Shrine’s keeper with her, then slid it back to Schulz, who was unmarked, for an easy goal.

“Hope just finagled her way around a couple of defenders, like she does, got the goalie out of position and left it for me,” explained Schulz. “I just tapped it in.”

It was fitting that three of NM’s senior captains scored goals (Johnson, Olsen and Wilson), while the fourth – Schotts – led the defensive effort.

While the season had a storybook finish with the school’s first Finals championship, it was understandably bittersweet.

“This is such a great group of girls, and we all love each other so much,” said Johnson. “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do not seeing them all the time.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) North Muskegon’s girls soccer team celebrates its first Finals championship Saturday at MSU. (Middle) The Norse’s Natalie Pannucci (4) moves the ball ahead amid the midday downpour.

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.)