By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Happy Birthday, Emily Solek. Happy first championship, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek.
Friday surely will be a milestone day to remember for the lone scorer in this season’s MHSAA Division 1 Final – and also for teammates who with her earned the program’s first girls soccer championship, against most expectations.
Stoney Creek entered the postseason ranked No. 10 in Division 1, the same spot it occupied in the first state coaches poll in mid-April and its highest ranking this spring. But it finished No. 1 Friday, with Solek connecting on a penalty kick with just under 11 minutes to play, giving the junior midfielder a little more to celebrate than ice cream and cake.
“Coming into this season, there were a lot of doubts about this team,” Solek said. “I think just because we had 12 seniors graduating last year, that it was just going to be a new team, new players and hard to get the vibe going.
“I think we were all up for the challenge.”
Stoney Creek’s only other MHSAA championship game appearance came in 2005, in Division 2. The Cougars exited last season in the Regional Semifinal with a shootout loss to Grand Blanc, the eventual Division 1 runner-up.
Given that that team graduated five players who earned all-state recognition, and this season’s team brought back only three seniors, it was fair to not expect much more of a run this time.
But that clearly wasn’t giving Stoney Creek (18-3-3) enough credit.
The Cougars earned their first Regional title since that last championship game run 11 years ago and got to MSU in part by downing No. 2 Utica Eisenhower, No. 4 Novi, No. 7 Utica Ford and No. 14 Troy Athens.
“We just realized that we just have to work our hardest, and then good things will come from that,” Solek said. “Our motto was kinda like, ‘Game by Game,’ and that’s how we took it.”
Stoney Creek had 12 shots Friday to Canton’s four, but only four on goal. Canton’s defense gave up only five goals over seven MHSAA postseason games.
But the Cougars kept pressuring the Chiefs on Friday. Three of those shots on goal came during the second half, and Canton senior keeper Jordan Anheuser made an especially impressive set of stops near the 24-minute mark in the second half when she punched away a crossing pass and then slid into the attack to deflect another shot and diffuse a potential rally.
Stoney Creek received the penalty shot after a long pass was launched in front of the Canton net and an attempted header toward the goal drew the foul. Solek punched her deciding kick into the lower right side of the net because “that’s where I go every time on my PKs,” she said.
“Canton did just a great job of winning the ball in the air and getting us out of the zone,” Stoney Creek coach Bryan Mittelstadt said. “We kept trying to push and push and push. (They have) a very strong back line and a very disciplined goalie. We just kept trying to get through the back line, and it was very difficult all day. “
The Chiefs’ run to East Lansing also was considered unexpected, seeing as they weren’t ranked at the end of the regular season after falling in their last two games before the start of tournament play.
But Canton (18-2-4), seeking its first MHSAA title since 2001, made its point by downing top-ranked Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 2-1 in the Semifinal.
“It’s a disappointing way to end the season, but I am so proud of my team,” Anheuser said. “To not be ranked and go this far, we were definitely the underdog, and I’m proud of everything we accomplished this season. (We’re) still going out on a good note.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Rochester Hills Stoney Creek hoists its first MHSAA championship trophy in girls soccer Friday at DeMartin Stadium. (Middle) Stoney Creek’s Isabella Langusch (18) and Canton’s Jennifer Richmond work for possession.
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.)