EAST LANSING – For Royal Oak Shrine Catholic, the disappointment of last year’s 5-0 Division 4 Soccer Final loss to North Muskegon now can be replaced with Friday’s impressive 1-0 shutout of Kalamazoo Christian at DeMartin Field on the campus of Michigan State.
After a scoreless first half, junior Norah Tisko scored 25 seconds into the second on a header to give the Knights (16-4-2) a 1-0 lead. It was her seventh goal of the season, with the assist going to Bridgette Drouillard.
“Yes, I had the finish, but it was our defense,’’ said Tisko. “Ava Gappy working it up the midfield and giving the ball to Julia (Bock), and Bridgette just giving me the most beautiful ball to execute. I really can’t take credit for it. We came into this year a little shaky. We lost some important seniors, but we had a great group of freshmen come in and step up. We were motivated to continue our run. Knowing we were coming back here was a little nervous, but we had confidence.’’
With nine shutouts coming into the Final, paced by sophomore goalkeeper Elena Gallagher, the Knights were used to shutting down opposing offenses.
“It starts with our defensive line and our goalie,” said Tisko. “Last year (Gallagher’s) appendix ruptured. We had a great second goalie, but she came back this year and our defensive line of seniors was so solid for us.”
It was a great 50th birthday present for coach Mark Soma.
“Very nice, can’t beat the party,” said Soma. “We were good last year, but we lost to a better team in North Muskegon. They were a talented group, and they deserved to win. The girls that came back wanted another taste of what it felt like.”
Shrine had allowed just one goal during the playoffs, during a 9-1 victory over St. Joseph Our Lady of the Lake in the Regional Final. Friday saw the Knights’ sixth shutout of the tournament.
“It’s not just our D; it’s our team,’’ said Soma. “Sixteen girls worked hard today. That’s what we have done all season. We kind of caught them off guard on the goal.’’
Shrine was making their third straight appearance in the Final. Kalamazoo Christian, a four-time Finals champion, also previously finished runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Gallagher finished the year with a goals-against average under 0.95.
“I totally rely on my defense; they are incredible,’’ said Gallagher. “I’m really close to all of them, so it’s like a bond on and off the field. There’s a lot of trust, so that works well for us. We are really great at communicating. We locked down as a team after the goal.’’
Drouillard, Jackie Lapoint and Claire Plaskey also were on the 2019 championship team.
The Comets (19-6) were on the attack most of the first half but couldn’t register a goal. Defense dominated the first 40 minutes as both sides had few scoring chances.
Annika Sytsma found one for Kalamazoo Christian with 1:13 to play in the half, but her shot went across the goal mouth and missed by inches.
“We were coming in with injuries, so we were trying to create different things,’’ said Comets coach Jay Allen. “It wasn’t meant to be today. We held (Tisko) for most of the game. She got loose once, and that was the difference. We were struggling to get that last step in there, but that’s soccer.
“We just couldn’t get a goal early, and this game is like that.”
PHOTOS (Top) Royal Oak Shrine Catholic celebrates its Division 4 championship win Friday at DeMartin Stadium. (Middle) Shrine keeper Elena Gallagher makes a stop.
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.)