By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Two of Saturday’s MHSAA Girls Soccer Finals are rematches of 2013 title games.
That alone tells the stories behind two of this weekend’s four championship games.
Clarkston Everest College/Waterford Our Lady actually will face Grandville Calvin Christian in the Division 4 Final for the third straight season – Calvin Christian won the last two championship meetings. Richland Gull Lake will look to repeat in Division 2 against Bloomfield Hills Marian, its opponent last season and the champion in 2012.
Among the four teams playing in Division 1 or Division 3, Utica Eisenhower is seeking its first MHSAA title while the other three have some recent history at the Finals – Hudsonville Unity Christian also was a 2012 champion, while Northville and Detroit Country Day both are seeking their first titles since 2004.
Below is Saturday's schedule, followed by a look at all eight contenders:
Division 1 at Williamston - Noon
Utica Eisenhower (18-2-1) vs. Northville (22-0)
Division 2 at Williamston - 3 p.m.
Bloomfield Hills Marian (19-0-1) vs. Richland Gull Lake (23-1-1)
Division 3 at Mason - Noon
Hudsonville Unity Christian (22-1) vs. Detroit Country Day (21-3-3)
Division 4 at Mason - 3 p.m.
Clarkston Everest/WOLL (17-1-1) vs. Grandville Calvin Christian (23-1)
All statistics below are through at least the regular season, with most through teams' Regionals. (Click for links to brackets and scores.)
Record/rank: 22-0, No. 1
Coach: Eric Brucker, fifth season (85-11-10)
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association Central and overall
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2004), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Megan Buckingham, sr. F (22 goals, 20 assists); Jamie Cheslik, sr. F (32 goals, 16 assists); Emily Maresh, jr. GK (0.16 goals-against average, .972 save %, 18 shutouts); Gabby Mencotti, sr. M (7 goals, 4 assists).
Outlook: Four teams have scored one goal apiece on Northville this season. That’s it. Maresh replaced an all-state keeper who graduated in 2013 and has shined behind a strong defensive group. The Mustangs’ tournament run has included wins over No. 6 Novi, No. 9 Saline and honorable mention Okemos, and Novi scored the only goal Northville has given up during the playoffs. Cheslik is set to play next season at Michigan State University, Buckingham at University of North Carolina, Mencotti at Grand Valley Sate University and senior midfielder Suzie Redick at University of Detroit Mercy.
Record/rank: 18-2-1, No. 4
Coach: Mehrdad Nekoogar, 10th season (156-18-19)
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2009.
Players to watch: Caitlin Carroll, sr. M (14 goals, 5 assists); Paige Duda, jr. F (16 goals, 4 assists); Isabella Palazzolo, jr. F (10 goals, 11 assists).
Outlook: Eisenhower has won five straight league titles but won its first District championship since 2011. The Eagles eliminated No. 3 Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and honorable mention Grand Blanc among others during this tournament run, and beat honorable mention Okemos during the regular season – that last win as part of an 11-game shutout streak. Carroll earned an all-state honorable mention last season.
Record/rank: 19-0-1, No. 1
Coach: Barry Brodsky, 13th season (241-22-29)
League finish: Second in Detroit Catholic High School League Division 1
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2012), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Kelly Sweeney, jr. F (20 goals, 11 assists); Hannah Redoute, fr. F (13 goals, 9 assists); Jaclyn Engel, jr. M (9 goals, 12 assists).
Outlook: Marian has won three titles over the last five seasons and once again has a champion’s resume’ – including wins over No. 7 Livonia Ladywood, No. 10 Lapeer West and honorable mentions Auburn Hills Avondale and Warren Regina during the tournament. The Mustangs have give up only five goals – and only one in the postseason, to Ladywood in the Semifinal. Sweeney and senior midfielder Annika Johnson made the all-state first team in 2013.
RICHLAND GULL LAKE
Record/rank: 23-1-1, No. 2
Coach: Jeff Corstange, third season (57-7-3)
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2013), four runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Rachel Fouts, sr. M (12 goals, 13 assists); Maggie Harma, sr. GK (0.42 GAA, .940 save %, 17 shutouts); Tabitha Boze, sr. M (10 goals, 10 assists); Amanda Paveltic, jr. F (14 goals, 8 assists).
Outlook: Gull Lake may have stunned some by knocking off powerful Marian in the Final a year ago, but the Blue Devils’ return is no surprise. Fouts made the all-state first team last season, while Harma made the third team and both Boze and Paveltic earned honorable mentions. Three others have at least 13 goals, including leading scorer Kirsten Taylor, a junior, with 18. Just as Marian eliminated many of the best from the Detroit area, Gull Lake did the same on the west side of the state with tournament wins over No. 4 Stevensville Lakeshore, No. 9 Haslett and honorable mention Grand Rapids Christian. The lone loss was to Division 1 No. 8 Rochester Adams.
DETROIT COUNTRY DAY
Record/rank: 21-3-3, No. 3
Coach: Bob Bukari, 28th season (record N/A)
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2004), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Jenna Staudt, jr. D; Michelle Manning, sr. F; Isabel Nino, fr. GK (Stats not submitted.).
Outlook: Country Day is annually in the Division 3 mix, but making its first championship game appearance since back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2005 and 2006. The Yellowjackets have eight straight shutouts, including against No. 5 Flint Powers Catholic, No. 6 Freeland and honorable mention Grosse Ile during the tournament. Manning made the all-state first team last season, and Staudt was second teamer.
HUDSONVILLE UNITY CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 22-1, No. 2
Coach: Randy Heethuis, 25th season (464-86-28)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Green
Championship history: Seven MHSAA titles (most recent 2012), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Bethany Balcer, jr. M (26 goals, 16 assists); Aubrey Schierbeek, sr. F (30 goals, 20 assists); Lauren Orr, jr. F (9 goals, 12 assists); Cassandra Besteman, jr. M (4 goals, 4 assists).
Outlook: This will be Unity Christian’s ninth championship game appearance in the last decade, and the Crusaders will be playing for their eighth MHSAA title during that time. They didn’t make it out of the Regional in 2013, but brought back six players this spring who earned all-state recognition – Schierbeek, Orr, Besteman, defenders Elly Brummel and Maddy VanDyke (three goals, five assists) and keeper Abby Veeneman (0.32 GAA, 11 shutouts). They’ve given up only one goal in the postseason, in the 5-1 District Final win over No. 4 Grand Rapids South Christian.
GRANDVILLE CALVIN CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 24-1, No. 2
Coach: Tim TerHaar, 14th season (232-61-20)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver
Championship history: Division 4 champion 2013 and 2012.
Players to watch: Camie Rietberg, jr. M (13 goals, 7 assists); Morgan Buursma, jr. D (8 goals, 5 assists); Sarah Klunder, sr. M (19 goals, 23 assists), Whitney Koets, (24 goals, 4 assists); Hilary Curry, jr. F (9 goals, 10 assists); Emily VanVliet, jr. F (16 goals, 15 assists).
Outlook: Calvin Christian has claimed the last two Division 4 titles and keeps winning with a proven formula – prepare during the regular season against bigger opponents, fill out a lineup with plenty of scoring options and dominate during the tournament. They’re scoring even more than a year ago, with 135 goals so far including another 17 off the bench from forward Laura Ramaker. Calvin Christian downed No. 3 Kalamazoo Christian, No. 4 Muskegon Western Michigan Christian and No. 8 Holland Black River during this tournament run, giving up its only goal of the postseason in the Quarterfinal to WMC. The lone loss was to Division 3 finalist Unity Christian.
CLARKSTON EVEREST COLLEGIATE/WATERFORD OUR LADY
Record/rank: 17-1-1, No. 1
Coach: Courtney Shegos, first season (17-1-1)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic High School League Intersectional
Championship history: Division 4 champion 2010, runners-up 2013 and 2012.
Players to watch: Anna Robb, jr. F (19 goals, 7 assists), Alex Troy, fr. M (10 goals, 6 assists); Lindsay Straw, jr. M (17 goals, 18 assists); Megan Luttinen, sr. GK (0.35 GAA, 12 shutouts, .950 save %).
Outlook: Former Grand Blanc standout and Michigan State University captain Shegos took over the program this spring, and it hasn’t missed a beat led by three of its top offensive players and keeper from 2013. Robb made the all-state team last season while Straw, Troy and Luttinen earned honorable mentions. The lone loss came in the regular-season finale to Division 3 top-ranked Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, and Everest/Our Lady has given up more than one goal only twice – yielding two to Notre Dame Prep and two to Auburn Hills Oakland Christian in the District Final. Everest/Our Lady then came back to shut out No. 5 Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal.
PHOTO: Clarkston Everest Collegiate/Waterford Our Lady’s Megan Luttinen makes a save during the 2013 MHSAA Division 4 Final. She’ll be in net again Saturday.
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.)