Northern Fueled for Another Title Drive

March 27, 2019

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

GRAND RAPIDS – The Forest Hills Northern girls soccer team made a surprising run to another MHSAA Finals last season with a roster filled with 18 underclassmen.

A large majority are back, and it’s created similar aspirations for a program that has blossomed into a formidable state contender in Division 2.

“I like this team because they have a lot of experience,” sixth-year Huskies coach Dan Siminski said. “It’s always a new challenge every year, and this year is no different from that standpoint with the departures and you have to fill some holes and move people around.

“One of the things I like about this team is they are very versatile, so we are converting some people from old positions to new ones and trying some things out. So far, it’s looked pretty good and they are quick to pick up concepts.”

The Huskies have appeared in three consecutive Finals, but come up short each time.

In 2016, they lost in a shootout to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep. The past two years, state powerhouse Bloomfield Hills Marian has spoiled their title hopes.

The season-ending losses haven’t defined their seasons, but have instilled an inner determination to keep striving toward the championship.

“We’ve come close, really close one year, but it keeps them hungry for sure,” Siminski said. “Runner-up or not, it’s not taking away from their accomplishments and I feel like everybody has been really happy with what we’ve done even though we didn’t win them all.”

Senior captain and four-year standout Carlye Fatum said the team hasn’t been discouraged by the setbacks. Instead, she and her teammates learned valuable lessons through each experience.

“Each year we’ve gotten so close, and every year we come back just as strong or even stronger and wanting to put in just as much work just to get there again,” Fatum said. “It’s tough getting there so many times and having it right there and being just short, but as a team I think we’ve handled it well and learned from it each year to improve.”

The Huskies have reached the Finals the past two years with different makeups.

In 2017, a senior-heavy squad carried the load, while last season a youthful bunch matured throughout the season en route to another lengthy postseason run.

Last year’s journey included a shootout win over Spring Lake in the Regional Final and an overtime victory against Richland Gull Lake in the Semifinal.

“It’s definitely a talented and close-knit group, and with the success these girls have had they kind of find ways to win even though it hasn’t been easy,” Siminski said. “Success tends to breed success, I guess, but all of them are very coachable and buy into team soccer and team concepts.”

Sammi Blair, another senior captain and four-year performer, is thrilled to have everyone back in the fold in pursuit of another successful campaign.

“I’m super excited about everyone coming back and how well we have started with our team chemistry because of last year,” Blair said. “That will help going into the season, and I think we want to show that we can keep this success up no matter what is thrown at us. We’ve lost players to DA (U.S. Developmental Academy), and we just want to prove that we can be just as good with players that come in and step up right away.”

One key attribute that hasn’t wavered in the Huskies’ incredible three-year span is their belief in themselves.

“One thing passed on from team to team is they are just a bunch of winners,” Siminski said. “They find a way, and you can’t teach that. It’s an intangible, and hard to put your finger on, but every time there has been a close game we just feel like it’s going to be all right, and it has been.

“You don’t know what the future will hold, but everybody believes and that’s the hardest part. They always feel like they have a good chance to win on any given day. Of course, you don’t win them all, but they always feel like they are going to win and that’s a great place to start.”

Fatum said that belief comes from trusting one’s teammates.

“We all trust each other, and we all go into it knowing we have each other’s back,” she said. “We know if we make a mistake that it’s OK, and we are strong enough to come back from it.”

Key returnees include keeper Parker Hutchinson, as well as Elyse DeSchryver, Jenna Mustapha, Sophie Renucci, Grace Sayers, Paige Myers, Kali Mochel and Alyssa Greshak. DeSchryver made the all-state third team last season and was the team’s leading scorer.

All of the girls play club soccer outside of the high school season. It’s allowed them to keep their individual skills sharp.

“We are blessed to have good clubs here, and they train from a young age,” Siminski said. “It keeps them constantly developing.”

Siminski said complacency hasn’t been a factor. His team knows to compete at the state level they have to endure the rigors of getting there.

“I haven’t seen a dip in their want to win conference and Districts or anything else,” he said. “A lot of that comes from senior leadership and captains pushing the kids and keeping them focused. I’m very excited and proud of the kids for what they’ve done so far, but we have more to come.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Forest Hills Northern’s Elyse DeSchryver (6) pushes past a defender during last season’s Division 2 Final against Bloomfield Hills Marian. (Middle) Carlye Fatum directs the offense.

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.)