Preview: How Will These Stories End?
June 13, 2019
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
While it’s convenient when previewing a Finals series to find a common theme bonding all four games, sometimes that’s just not possible.
Sometimes, like this weekend, the stories are unrelated – but all worth the price of admission.
In Division 1, reigning champion Novi is attempting to repeat without one of its top players against a Plymouth team seeking its first title. The Division 2 Final will match up Bloomfield Hills Marian and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern for the third straight season.
Essexville Garber in Division 3 and Royal Oak Shrine Catholic in Division 4 are playing in Finals for the first time. Kalamazoo Christian is back after finishing Division 4 runner-up the last two seasons, and Garber’s Division 3 opponent Grand Rapids South Christian is one of three teams among the final eight that didn’t win its league but can end this spring with a victory.
Following is this weekend’s schedule:
Division 1 - Saturday - 4 p.m.
Novi vs. Plymouth
Division 2 - Friday - 4 p.m.
Bloomfield Hills Marian vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern
Division 3 - Friday - 1 p.m.
Grand Rapids South Christian vs. Essexville Garber
Division 4 - Saturday - 1 p.m.
Kalamazoo Christian vs. Royal Oak Shrine Catholic
Tickets cost $8 and include admission to the softball and baseball games also being played at MSU’s Old College Field. Radio broadcasts of all games can be heard online at MHSAAnetwork.com. All games will be streamed live online at MHSAA.tv and viewable on subscription basis. (Click for brackets, scores and a parking map.)
All statistics below are through Regionals.
Record/rank: 27-0-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West
Coach: Todd Pheiffer, fifth season (84-17-15)
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2018).
Players to watch: Avery Fenchel, jr. F (24 goals, 14 assists); Jessie Bandyk, sr. M (10 goals, 15 assists); Lauren Calhoun, sr. D (2 assists); Eva Burns, soph. D (1 goal).
Outlook: Improving on a championship season of course is difficult. But one more win would do it for the Wildcats, who can finish unbeaten after totaling five losses in 2018 and earlier won their league after finishing third last spring. And Novi has done it after losing sophomore keeper Abbey Pheiffer (0.16 goals-against average) to a season-ending injury – but freshman Sammy Maday (0.14) stepped in and the team hasn’t missed a beat. Fenchel and Bandyk were all-state first teamers last season, and Calhoun and Burns earned honorable mentions. Senior forward Julia Stadtherr ranks second in scoring with 17 goals, and senior forward Lexi Whalen has added nine and 13 assists.
Record/rank: 19-4-1, No. 5
League finish: Second in KLAA East
Coach: Jeff Neschich, 15th season (record N/A)
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2010.
Players to watch: Kennedy White, sr. F; Rebecca Przybylo, sr. GK. (Stats not submitted.)
Outlook: Plymouth won its first Regional title since 2010 on the way to advancing to a Final for the second time in program history. These Wildcats avenged a regular-season loss to No. 13 Troy in the Semifinal, and will attempt to continue that streak after falling to Novi twice. The only other loss, and the tie, came to No. 11 Hartland. White made the all-state first team last season for the second straight, and Przybylo made the third team as a sophomore.
BLOOMFIELD HILLS MARIAN
Record/rank: 17-1, No. 2
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central
Coach: Barry Brodsky, 18th season (334-27-36)
Championship history: Seven MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Jansen Eichenlaub, sr. F (23 goals, 7 assists); Sara Stroud, sr. M (4 goals, 6 assists); Anna Leonard, jr. M (1 goal, 1 assist); Kate Biglin, jr. M (4 goals, 9 assists).
Outlook: Marian is heading to the championship game for the third straight season hoping for a third straight Division 2 championship. Plenty of Marian’s best have won before – Eichenlaub made the all-state first team last season, while Leonard and Stroud made the second, senior defender Neve Badalow made the third and junior forward Chloe Aberlarde (two goals this spring) earned honorable mention. Sophomore forward Maria Askounis is the team’s second-leading scorer with eight goals and 10 assists off the bench, and senior mid Sydney Petoskey has seven goals as another super sub.
GRAND RAPIDS FOREST HILLS NORTHERN
Record/rank: 19-2-1, No. 6
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Coach: Daniel Siminski, sixth season (105-18-11)
Championship history: Four runner-up finishes (most recent 2018).
Players to watch: Parker Hutchinson, jr. G (0.60 goals-against average, .848 save percentage); Elyse DeSchryver, jr. F (28 goals, 18 assists); Grace Sayers, soph. F (25 goals, 2 assists); Alyssa Greshak, jr. F (10 goals, 10 assists).
Outlook: Forest Hills Northern is hoping to break through after three straight championship game losses. The Huskies’ only losses during the regular season were to top-ranked DeWitt and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, which reached the Division 1 Semifinals. DeSchryver made the all-state third team last season and leads the scoring for a team that has netted 106 goals and given up only 16. In addition to DeSchryver, Sayers and Greshak, sophomore Emily Vander Hoff has 11 goals off the bench, and senior Carlye Fatum has 12 assists as a starting mid.
GRAND RAPIDS SOUTH CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 19-3-3, No. 5
League finish: Second in O-K Gold
Coach: Brian Broekhuizen, sixth season (99-31-12)
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2013.
Players to watch: Annika Zuverink, sr. GK (0.22 goals-against average, .930 save percentage); Cassidy Broekhuizen, sr. F/M (10 goals, 5 assists); Joz VanTol, sr. F/M (6 goals, 8 assists); Emma DeVries, jr. F (14 goals, 5 assists).
Outlook: South Christian also is coming off its second Regional title on the way to this second Finals appearance. The Sailors got here in part by winning a shootout with No. 6 Allegan in the Regional Final and then downing No. 8 Boyne City in the Semifinal. South Christian has 19 shutouts and eight straight including a scoreless run through all six tournament games. Zuverink earned an all-state honorable mention last season, while VanTol and senior defender Morgan Rottman made the third team.
Record/rank: 22-0-2, No. 7
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference East
Coach: Troy Stewart, 15th season (164-116-22)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Rachel Hahn, sr. F (30 goals, 22 assists); Teagan Betzold, fr. F (29 goals, 16 assists); Natelle Vantol, jr. M (14 goals, 16 assists); Logan Rau, sr. GK (0.42 goals-against average, 16 shutouts).
Outlook: Just three years ago, Garber was finishing its third straight sub-.500 season – but was on the verge of this climb. The Dukes went from eight wins in 2016 to 13 the next season and 15 last spring. In addition to the unbeaten record this season, Garber also won its first Regional title before upsetting No. 2 Warren Regina in the Semifinal. Hahn earned an all-state honorable mention as a junior, and she’s one of seven Dukes who had scored at least nine goals entering this week including also senior Isabel Baranski (14 goals, 11 assists). Rau actually made it 17 shutouts on the season with another Tuesday and has given up only eight goals all spring.
Record/rank: 21-2-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley
Coach: Jay Allen, sixth season (114-19-13)
Championship history: Four Division 4 titles (most recent 2008), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Sarah Miller, jr. M/D (9 goals, 21 assists); Lauryn Mohney, jr. M/D (16 goals, 12 assists); Kayla Beebe, sr. M/F (36 goals, 7 assists); Emma Bertrand, sr. M/F (19 goals, 8 assists).
Outlook: Kalamazoo Christian has come up just short the last two seasons, falling 1-0 in last spring’s Final and in a shootout in 2017, both times to Lansing Christian. The Comets have outscored their opponents this spring by a combined 120-12, with losses only to Division 3 No. 4 Otsego and also larger Paw Paw. Beebe made the all-state first team last season, and Mohney made the second, while senior defender Elise Van Sparrentak made the third and junior keeper Jenna Blackwell and Bertrand earned honorable mentions. Junior Sarah Wenke joins the three mentioned above with double-digit goals, finding the net 10 times heading into this week.
ROYAL OAK SHRINE CATHOLIC
Record/rank: 22-3-3, No. 2
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League 2/3
Coach: Mark Soma, 15th season (record N/A)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Allison LaPoint, jr. GK (17 shutouts); Chloe Woodbeck, sr. F; Elli Plunkey, soph. F; Regan Robinson, jr. M. (No other stats submitted.)
Outlook: The Knights have dominated in winning their first Regional title and now moving on to their first championship game. Shrine has outscored its six tournament opponents by a combined score of 34-1, with wins over No. 14 Lansing Christian, No. 4 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and No. 5 Madison Heights Bishop Foley along the way. LaPoint and Robinson made the all-state second team last season, and Plunkey earned honorable mention. But the team got a massive boost when Woodbeck – who has signed with Purdue – joined the high school team this spring after playing at the elite club level.
PHOTO: Marian’s Jansen Eichenlaub, here in last season’s Division 2 Final against Forest Hills Northern, will try to lead her team this weekend to its third straight championship.
3-Sport Standout Sluss Gives Lenawee Christian All-State Boost for Every Season
By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com
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.
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.)