By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
WILLIAMSTON – Alison Holland might have worried a bit after Grandville’s Sydney Blitchok scored a little more than 14 minutes into Saturday’s Division 1 Final at Williamston.
Holland, Troy’s senior goalkeeper, would even admit to that – given that Troy was making its third straight MHSAA championship game appearance and was shut out in their last two.
But that anxiety faded almost immediately. This team was “gutsy,” Holland said, and she knew her teammates would get chances to even the score.
The Colts were able to make good on two – and beat Grandville 2-1 to claim their first MHSAA title since 2003.
“Twice we didn’t win it, so we were all just so motivated this year,” Holland said. “We wanted to go out on a good note, and we’re going to have this forever with each other. It’s just a great time right now.”
Troy had fallen to Okemos 2-0 in last season’s Final and 1-0 to Novi in 2010.
But those became fading memories Saturday when senior Madison Hirsch evened the score 18:25 into the first half and senior Kayla Porter put Troy ahead 13:31 into the second.
Porter's goal led to an uproarious celebration near the Colts bench, mostly in response to previous teasing by coach Brian Zawislak – who had told his players they didn’t celebrate goals like they should because they weren’t getting the entire team involved.
“When you’re held scoreless the last two (Finals), you have those demons in you,” Zawislak said. “When Hirsch hits the back of the net, everyone’s spirits just lifted.”
Porter’s goal run likely included a little unloading of frustration after battling a physical Grandville defense for nearly three quarters of the game.
Once Hirsch put in the team’s first goal, Porter wanted to add the next.
“I had a lot of energy out there, and I wanted to score,” she said. “It was really running through my mind. So when I got the ball down there, I just ran, and I just shot it.”
Troy finished this season 15-6-3 after opening 3-6-2. Grandville finished 14-8-1. Both teams were unranked entering the postseason and neither finished among the top two in their respective leagues.
But both beat top-10 teams on the way to Williamston and obviously found their peak performance when it counted most.
“I just told them nobody imagined at the beginning of the year that we’d be anywhere close to here,” Grandville coach Lewis Robinson said. “It gives them the experience of being here and helps us a lot for next year. And (I) guarantee we’ll be back in and around this time of year next year and the year after as well. With 13 underclassmen on the team, the future is very bright.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Troy players celebrate the team’s go-head goal during the second half of Saturday’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) Colts senior Kayla Porter finishes a run with a shot that would give her team the 2-1 lead. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.)