Sailors Ride Scoreless Streak to 2nd Title

June 14, 2019

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Grand Rapids South Christian senior goalkeeper Annika Zuverink said that throughout this spring, head coach Brian Broekhuizen brought the team bagels every time she and the Sailors shut out an opponent.

But toward the end of the season, Zuverink said Broekhuizen started bringing something else to reward a scoreless performance.

“He’s upgraded to cheeseburgers now,” Zuverink said. 

Whatever the choice of food, it was bagels and cheeseburgers for all on South Christian’s squad again Saturday following the Division 3 Final at Michigan State University’s DeMartin Field.

The Sailors recorded their 20th shutout of the season and had plenty of offense to flank their stout defense, scoring twice in the first half en route to a 3-0 victory over Essexville Garber.

It was the second title in school history for the Sailors, who also won it all in 2013.

South Christian didn’t allow a single goal over its seven playoff games. 

“I think that’s really impressive,” Zuverink said. “I can’t believe we successfully did that. It’s unbelievable.”

The victory also served as a milestone win for Broekhuizen, who won his 100th game as head coach of the South Christian program.

“That is so special, especially with this group,” Broekhuizen said. “I don’t know what to say about that. It’s just so fitting for me to celebrate that with these girls.”

South Christian opened the scoring with 23:25 left in the first half on a goal by senior Joz VanTol, who headed home a service into the box by senior Sydney Cleary on a free kick from roughly 30 yards out taken near the right sideline.

The Sailors then scored a back-breaking goal off a corner kick right before halftime. Junior Audrey Batts served the ball into the box, and senior Elise Van Sparrentek chipped the ball through defenders and beyond the goal line to give South Christian a two-goal cushion.

The Sailors didn’t let up to start the second half, tilting the field in their favor and then finally cashing on another opportunity.

VanTol dribbled into the right side of the box and fed a pass into the middle to junior Emma DeVries, who buried the point-blank chance with 33:18 left in the game to make it 3-0.

That offense was more than enough for South Christian’s brick wall of a defense.

“At the beginning of the season, I tricked them a little bit and said, ‘Defenders, raise your hand,’” Broekhuizen said. “By now, most of them know that everyone should raise their hand. We work on defending from the front to the back. Forwards cut the field in half, midfielders pressuring and covering, and the back covering, tackling and winning headers. It’s a defensive effort, and now they know defense really wins championships.”

South Christian carried the play throughout, outshooting Garber 15-8 and earning all nine of the game’s corner kicks.

Garber head coach Troy Stewart said the physicality of South Christian was something his team hadn’t seen all year. 
“We don’t play the teams they do,” Stewart said. “We didn’t know the physicality was going to be like that and we weren’t prepared, and that’s on us as coaches. We probably should’ve come over here and seen a few games. We learned a lesson.”

While it was a disappointing Final for Garber (22-1-2), in time the Dukes will look back favorably on their first championship game in school history.

They finished with nearly three times as many wins as in 2016 – when they won just eight games –claimed their first Regional title, and upset No. 2-ranked Warren Regina in a Semifinal.

But after building the program to this point, Stewart said after 16 seasons he is stepping down as head coach to spend more time with his three granddaughters who are getting into soccer.  

Given it was the program’s first appearance in a Final, Stewart said the team didn’t know there would be a runner-up trophy and medals presented to his players afterward. Finding out that news was a pleasant surprise, even in defeat.

“We just didn’t know,” Stewart said. “Every time we were going, it was day-at-a-time and we are going to play whoever is on that field. We didn’t know there was a trophy and medals.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids South Christian hoists a Finals championship trophy Saturday for the first time since 2013. (Middle) The Sailors’ Sarah Possett works to nudge the ball away from Garber’s Isabel Baranski (4).

3-Sport Standout Sluss Gives Lenawee Christian All-State Boost for Every Season

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

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 [email protected] 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.)