By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
WILLIAMSTON – The Flint Powers Catholic girls soccer team hadn’t experienced a figurative bolt of lightning like this during its MHSAA Tournament run.
Holding on to a one-goal lead and just over 20 minutes from clinching another title – and having not allowed a goal in the playoffs to that point – Powers saw Freeland make a play Saturday and not only score on Powers, but tie the game and make it a brand new contest for the Division 3 championship.
However, Powers’ outage was only temporary.
“At first, we were like ‘Oh, they got us,’” Powers junior Rachel Rasins said. “But we have great energy and great attitude. We all picked it up right away, and we got it back.”
Powers certainly did get it back, as Rasins scored her second goal of the game with 15:43 remaining to give the Chargers a 2-1 victory and their second straight championship.
Powers also beat Freeland in last year’s Final, but it was a different game in the rematch.
Freeland was making its first appearance in a girls soccer championship game last year, and nerves at the start seemed to play a role in Powers jumping out to a 3-0 lead by halftime en route to a 4-0 victory.
Feeling more comfortable this time around, Freeland played Powers a lot more even, but just couldn’t contain Rasins on a couple different scoring attempts.
With 8:52 remaining in the first half, Rasins got loose in the left corner of the box and fired a shot that snuck between the goalkeeper and a defender along the near side of the post to give Powers a 1-0 lead.
Freeland started to generate chances in the second half and came close hitting the crossbar with just under 30 minutes remaining.
The Falcons got the board with 21:12 to go. Freshman forward Molly Hemgesberg took a pass from senior Mackenzie Strobel with space in the box and rifled a shot into the net to tie the game at 1-1.
But Rasins rose up again just as it appeared overtime was around the corner.
With 15:43 remaining, Rasins took the ball off of a short corner kick and found space once again in the left side of the box, taking advantage by ripping a hard shot past the keeper and into the net to give Powers a 2-1 lead.
“I was thinking to serve, but (the defender) left that whole gap,” Rasins said. “It was right there.”
Powers finished a season that carried the weight of expectations from the beginning, given the quality and quantity it returned from last year’s title-winning team.
The Chargers finished 23-1-3, with their only loss to Division 1 runner-up Grand Blanc.
“We had that target on our back being state champs last year and being ranked No. 1 all year,” Powers coach Art Moody said. “The girls recognized that target on their back. Freeland wasn’t scared of us at all, which was great for them.”
Freeland outshot Powers in the second half by a 9-4 margin and had six corner kicks in the half after being outplayed statistically in the first.
For the game, Powers held a 12-11 edge in shots and an 8-6 edge in corner kicks.
The Falcons finished 22-5 and mounted another impressive run to the Final despite being ranked only No. 18 entering the postseason.
“It was a really good game,” Freeland coach Lauren Kemerer said. “It was fast-paced. It was back-and-forth. In the second half, I thought we were the better team. We just couldn’t finish.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Powers Catholic’s Rachel Rasins (20) battles Freeland’s Hannah Doran for possession Saturday. (Middle) Powers’ Kennedy Myers winds up for a shot.
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.)