By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Mallory Weber has seen plenty of creative defenses during her four seasons on Northville’s varsity soccer team.
Most of the time, she’s shadowed by two defenders. Sometimes, she’ll draw three. But the most memorable effort came from just one defender last season against rival Novi.
“She followed me everywhere. I went out of bounds, she followed me out of bounds,” Weber remembered Wednesday. “It was pretty quick. I’d stop. She’d stop. She was like on a leash with me.”
Welcome to life as a two-time all-state forward who next season will play for the reigning Big Ten regular-season champion, and this week receives a Second Half High 5 for helping key her team's outstanding start.
Northville is 5-0-2 coming off Tuesday’s 8-0 win over South Lyon, in which Weber scored two goals and had an assist to push her season totals to nine and five, respectively.
She didn’t score in last week’s win over Novi – the Mustangs' first over the Wildcats since 2009 – but that hardly means she didn’t factor in what might be considered the team’s best victory of the last two seasons. Novi had won 40 straight games, including last season’s MHSAA Division 1 Final.
“Novi had her double-teamed at all times and sometimes triple-teamed. This obviously opens up the field for others to execute,” Northville coach Eric Brucker said. “Mallory is the workhorse and on-field leader. Other coaches within our league have pulled Mallory aside after postgame handshakes to voice their admiration for her on-the-field direction.
“She is a great example of trying to do the most for her team – every game, all 80 minutes. The players around her feed off her energy.”
Extra attention from opponents became noticeable to her last season, but didn’t slow Weber as she earned a second-straight all-state first-team selection. She’s picked up some moves to create her own space – usually, she’ll play the ball back, spin off and try to come back to the ball in an effort to gain a few steps.
But she also realizes how much opponents are changing their defenses to account for her – and how much that can benefit a Mustangs team that returned nearly intact from a year ago.
With little opportunity to look up when she got the ball against Novi, Weber was able to one-touch pass to teammates because they’ve grown accustomed to where each other will be positioned.
Among those getting plenty of great looks up front is sophomore Jamie Cheslik, who has six goals and seven assists and scored the game-winner against Novi. Brucker called her the “catalyst,” another who creates plenty of havoc and scoring opportunities.
Weber was not considered that player yet when she got serious about soccer at age 10. She’d played in recreational leagues, but didn’t make the top team in her club that first season – which paid off in the long run because of how hard she worked to become better. But the middle of the next season, she was promoted. And she joined the Mustangs' top team in her first season of high school.
Although Northville has two MHSAA championship game appearances since 2004, all three of Weber’s seasons have ended with losses in arguably the toughest District in the state (which this season includes three teams currently ranked among the top seven in Division 1).
But the Novi win could be the spark for a run Weber has been waiting to lead.
“It’s what I’ve been waiting for each year. We’re on the same page, and it would be great to go out like that on a good note, and good for the program,” Weber said. “We’ve finally come together, and that (win) gave us the confidence we’ll need in the playoffs.”
Click for more about Weber and this week's other High 5s.
PHOTO: Northville's Mallory Weber (14) works the ball upfield while being shadowed by a defender. (Photo courtesy of Shelly Bush Photography.)
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.)