Preview: Soccer Returns with Past Champs, New Contenders

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

June 17, 2021

Four first-time finalists – one playing in each championship game – will make their MHSAA Girls Soccer Finals debuts this weekend at DeMartin Stadium.

They'll be joined by reigning champions in Bloomfield Hills Marian and Royal Oak Shrine Catholic, and two more past champs looking to climb once again as the first titles are awarded since 2019 after last season was canceled due to COVID-19.  

Following is this weekend’s schedule:

Division 1 - Saturday - 4 p.m.
Troy Athens vs. Hartland

Division 2 - Friday - 4 p.m.
Bloomfield Hills Marian vs. Spring Lake

Division 3 - Friday - 1 p.m.
Boyne City vs. Detroit Country Day

Division 4 - Saturday - 1 p.m.
North Muskegon vs. Royal Oak Shrine Catholic

Tickets cost $9.40 and may be purchased online only at GoFanOne ticket is good for all girls soccer, softball and baseball games at MSU’s Old College Field that day. All four Finals will be broadcast and available with subscription from MHSAA.tv, with free audio broadcasts on the MHSAA Network.

Below is a glance at all eight teams taking the field, with statistics through Regionals: 

Division 1

HARTLAND
Record/rank: 
19-4-1, unranked
League finish: Third in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West
Coach: Andrew Kartsounes, 16th season (189-80-42)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Hannah Kastamo, jr. F (20 goals, 10 assists); Justina L’Esperance, sr. M (22 goals, 8 assists); Julia Pietila, sr. F (16 goals, 7 assists); Morgan Seog, jr. GK (0.27 goals-against average, .939 save %).
Outlook: Hartland has won 10 straight games and now reached the Semifinals for the first time. The Eagles shut out their first five postseason opponents – including reigning champ Novi and No. 14 Lake Orion – before defeating No. 11 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 3-2 in the Semifinal. Senior midfielder Jaden Frigerio had a team-high 13 assists entering the week as Hartland has outscored its opponents by a combined 89-15. Sophomore Leila Al-Qallaf (0.83 goals-against average) has split time with Seog in goal, and they’ve combined for 13 shutouts.

TROY ATHENS
Record/rank: 
17-1-4, No. 2
League finish: Third in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Todd Heugh, 10th season (119-46-35)
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2000), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Nitya Balusu, sr. GK (0.77 goals-against average, 11 shutouts); Abby Mayne, jr. M (20 goals, 13 assists); Gillian Ciak, jr. M (11 goals, 7 assists); Alyssa Carnes, jr. D (9 goals, 4 assists).
Outlook: In 2019, Heugh coached the Athens boys team to its first championship since 1997, and this weekend his girls team will attempt something similar in their first title game appearance since the 2000 win. The Red Hawks have eight straight shutouts, including a 2-0 win over No. 20 Ann Arbor Skyline in the Semifinal. Junior Casey Gruber (9 goals/2 assists), sophomore Amanda Leonard (8 goals/8 assists) and freshman Alex Haggerty also share in a balanced scoring effort.

Division 2

BLOOMFIELD HILLS MARIAN
Record/rank: 
12-3-1, No. 12
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central
Coach: Barry Brodsky, 20th season (345-30-37)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA titles (most recent 2019), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Lauren Briggs, sr. M (3 goals, 6 assists); Abby Lucchesi, jr. M (4 goals, 5 assists); Elle Ervin, fr. F (23 goals, 3 assists); Maria Askounis, sr. F (10 goals, 8 assists).
Outlook: Marian is seeking its fourth-straight Division 2 championship and also hasn’t given up a goal during the postseason with senior Izabel Toma a standout in net. The tournament run has included wins over top-ranked DeWitt, No. 6 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood and No. 13 Dearborn Divine Child. Askounis and now-senior Emily Rassel scored Marian’s goals in the 2019 Final, and now-senior Olivia DeConinck started that Final as a sophomore. Askounis earned all-state honorable mention that season.

SPRING LAKE
Record/rank: 
15-3-2, No. 4
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue
Coach: Becky May, fifth season (69-8-5)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Meah Bajt, jr. F (31 goals, 8 assists); Zoe Komar, sr. F (10 goals, 4 assists); Eryn Bouwhuis, jr. D (7 goals, 8 assists); Jessica Stewart, fr. GK (0.95 goals-against average, 9 shutouts).
Outlook: Spring Lake has won District titles every season under May, who played at Michigan State, and this season took a few more steps reaching its first championship match. They advanced with a 2-1 Semifinal win over No. 7 Byron Center, and the Lakers’ only losses this spring were twice the Division 3 No. 2 Hudsonville Unity Christian and once to Division 1 No. 3 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern. This could be just the first of a few deep tournament runs; Spring Lake will graduate only three starters.

Division 3

BOYNE CITY
Record/rank: 
21-1-2, No. 7
League finish: Tied for first in Lake Michigan Conference
Coach: Eduardo Fantozzi, fifth season (68-24-2)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Jordan Noble, sr. M/F (33 goals, 29 assists); Inanna Hauger, sr. M (12 goals, 22 assists); Taylor Noble, sr. M/F (33 goals, 13 assists); Ally Herrick, sr. M/D (3 goals, 3 assists).
Outlook: A star-studded group of sophomores who helped Boyne City to its first Semifinal in 2019 have the Ramblers headed to their first championship game this weekend. They’ve navigated one of the toughest tournament roads, defeating No. 6 Elk Rapids, No. 8 Cheboygan, No. 10 Big Rapids and No. 2 Hudsonville Unity Christian along the way. The lone loss was to Elk Rapids in April. Jordan Noble made the all-state first team, Hauger and Taylor Noble the second team and Herrick earned honorable mention in 2019. Sophomore Reagan Woodall (13 goals) and senior Megan Harmeling (14) also are finding the net regularly this season.

DETROIT COUNTRY DAY
Record/rank: 
16-2-2, No. 1
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Laura Hamway, sixth season (74-21-6)
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2004), five runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Lila Bienhold, sr. GK (0.50 goals-against average); Calihan Bearden, sr. D (2 goals); Madison Salzenstein, sr. F. (11 goals, 4 assists); Jordan John, sr. F (6 goals, 4 assists).
Outlook: Country Day is making its first championship game appearance since back-to-back Division 3 runner-up finishes in 2014 and 2015. The Yellowjackets were in Division 2 the last season of play, in 2019, and Bienhold made the all-state first team with Bearden and Salzenstein earning honorable mentions. They’ve given up just one goal over five postseason games this spring while also navigating a difficult path, defeating No. 3 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, No. 5 Grosse Ile, No. 13 Williamston and No. 15 Clawson. Country Day also has wins over Division 1 finalist Troy Athens and Division 2 finalist Bloomfield Hills Marian.

Division 4

NORTH MUSKEGON
Record/rank: 
19-1-1, No. 6
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference
Coach: Caleb Parnin, first season (19-1-1)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Hope Johnson, sr. F (36 goals, 21 assists); Audrey Wilson, sr. M (18 goals, 15 assists); Emily Olsen, sr. M (21 goals, 21 assists); Syann Fairfield, sr. GK (5 goals scored, 2 assists; 14 shutouts).
Outlook: North Muskegon made back-to-back Semifinals in 2018 and 2019 and has taken another step into its first Final. Fairfield and Wilson made the all-state second team as sophomores, and Fairfield has given up only five goals over 17 games this spring. The Norsemen have allowed only one goal over five postseason games, with shutouts of top-ranked Grandville Calvin Christian and No. 16 Muskegon Western Michigan Christian along the way. Sophomore forward Natalie Pannucci (17 goals, 9 assists) also is among offensive catalysts.

ROYAL OAK SHRINE CATHOLIC
Record/rank: 
14-3-1, No. 11
League finish: Third in Detroit Catholic League AA
Coach: Mark Soma, 21st season (record N/A)
Championship history: Division 4 champion 2019.
Players to watch: Ellie Plunkey, sr. F; Bridgette Drouillard, jr. M; Addy Vemulapalli, soph. GK. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Shrine reached and won its first Final in 2019, and then graduated a number of past all-staters last spring who would’ve given them a strong chance of returning in 2020 – but has come back this spring with just three senior starters. Shrine has given up only one goal over four playoff games, to No. 15 Bad Axe in the Semifinal, and also has defeated No. 9 Allen Park Inter-City Baptist and No. 12 Adrian Lenawee Christian during this run. All three losses came in April, to No. 3 Clarkston Everest Collegiate, Division 3 No. 17 Wixom St. Catherine and Division 2 No. 6 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood.

PHOTO: Marian's Maria Askounis makes a run at the goal during the 2019 Division 2 championship game.

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.

Southeast & BorderSluss 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.

Sluss puts up a shot during last season’s Division 4 Semifinal at Breslin Center.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.”

Sluss plants a chip on the green. 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.)