TC West Standout Renews Ties to Titans, Cheers Past Teammates' Gold Pursuit
By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com
July 16, 2021
Savanna Wojtanowski was made here. She played here. She stayed here — except for stints in Washington, D.C., where international soccer players joined her.
Now she’s back as a high school soccer coach.
While lots of faces familiar to United States and Canadian television viewers and soccer fans are expected at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, some of those players will be personally familiar to Wojtanowski.
Wojtanowski played alongside a handful of current and recent players on the U.S. and Canadian women’s teams after serving as four-year starting goalie for Traverse City West and during a college career that began with two seasons at Ferris State and concluded with her final two at Michigan State in 2016 and 2017. During her time with the Spartans, Wojtanowski spent two offseasons with the reserve team for the Washington Spirit, one of the original eight teams when the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was formed in 2012.
At West, Wojtanowski was named second team all-conference as a junior and senior, as well as first team all-district, first team all-region and all-state honorable mention her senior season in 2013. West winning the Big North Conference title that spring remains her favorite memory from high school soccer – and she quickly has matched that achievement as a coach, leading West to the BNC championship this past spring in her first season after taking over the program.
Wojtanowski is looking for the U.S. national team to come out with a vengeance after the disappointment of the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. There the U.S. fell to Sweden in a semifinal shootout, which meant failing to reach the gold medal match for the first time since women’s soccer was introduced to the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta.
Sweden is the U.S.’s opening-game opponent July 21 in Tokyo.
“I believe there is a lot of revenge being chased after the Rio Olympics,” the 25-year-old former keeper said. “I was with the Spirit during Rio, and when the team returned from the Olympics, the sense of disappointment was felt for a long time.
“I believe going into this year's Olympics, we will see a different type of fire displayed from the USWNT.”
Wojtanowski won’t see former Washington Spirit teammate Diana Matheson of Canadian fame and Estelle Johnson of Cameroon playing in Tokyo. Matheson recently announced her retirement after 18 years representing Canada’s national team. Johnson and her teammates lost a playoff with Chile for the last of 16 slots in the Olympics.
Wojtanowski feels fortunate that she had the chance to compete with and against the women trying to claim gold at Tokyo.
“During college I was able to play two years on the Washington Spirit reserves, which opened the door to the pro side of the game,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to be one of two college players training full-time with the pro squad for those two summers.
“Having the opportunity to play alongside some USWNT women and the Canada women was such a great experience.”
Wojtanowski played with current U.S. roster players Crystal Dunn and Kristie Mewis. The current Canadians she played with are Stephanie Labbe and Shelina Zadorsky. Labbe was Canada’s starting goalkeeper in Rio.
Dunn, though, stands out most to Wojtanowski. Dunn was with the Spirit but now plays for Portland. She has 24 goals and 19 assists in 116 appearances for the USWNT as primarily a defender.
“(Dunn) was such a treat to play with …. her humor, attitude, and training mentality is something I will forever remember,” Wojtanowski said. “She was constantly dancing, laughing, and having a great time at training, but when it was time to get serious she would get the job done.”
Wojtanowski also had the tough job of trying to stop U.S. standout Rose Lavelle during Lavelle’s time starring for Wisconsin. The past Badgers standout and now-Washington Spirit midfielder has 14 goals and nine assists in 56 appearances for the U.S.
Wojtanowski began her collegiate career with two seasons at Ferris State University. After transferring to MSU, she played two more seasons and as a junior in 2016 tied the MSU single-game record with 14 saves against then-No. 16 Penn State. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a focus on administration and management and a master’s certificate in supply chain management and procurement. She returned home to start the next chapters of life, and she works as a supply chain buyer fulltime along with her guidance of the Titans.
She’s thrilled to be back at her high school alma mater, which she guided to an overall 10-4-1 record this spring, with the Titans eventually falling to Midland Dow in a Division 1 District Final.
“I wanted to give back to the community,” said Wojtanowski, who previously had coached at the club level in Lansing. “West has always had a very special place in my heart ever since graduation.
“When this opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to take the opportunity to be a Titan again,” she continued. “It has been a special experience to coach the program that I grew up with.”
Wojtanowski wants to instill a family-based culture in the Titans program, something she came to know and love while at Michigan State.
“The biggest thing for me is growing them as individuals both on and off the soccer field,” she said.
Wojtanowski believes girls high school and women’s soccer in this country have changed for the better since she played. And, she’s not the least bit surprised by the consistent success of the USWNT.
“The women's game in the US has grown significantly since I started playing soccer in 2000,” Wojtanowski noted. “Our farm systems here in the U.S. along with club, college, and other programs feed a constantly-elite level of players through the USWNT system.”
2020-21 Made in Michigan
July 8: Caro Champs Find Common Ground Again as Mental Health Providers - Read
June 28: Michigan's Minor Leaguers Making Up for Lost Season - Read
PHOTOS: (Top) Savanna Wojtanowski leads a halftime discussion this spring with her Traverse City West varsity. (Middle) Wojtanowski, second row standing far right in group photo, trained two seasons with the Washington Spirit’s reserves; the Spirit first team included U.S. national teamer Crystal Dunn (left in second photo) and Cameroon national teamer Estelle Johnson (far right). (Below) Wojtanowski makes a save for West against Traverse City Central in 2012. (Top photo by Daisy Kinney, middle courtesy of Savanna Wojtanowski and below courtesy of the Traverse City Record-Eagle.)
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.)