Undefeated Saline Claims 1st Finals Win

June 13, 2015

By Dan Stickradt
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING — Saline helped redefine the term “team soccer” this season. 

The Hornets put together one of the most impressive seasons in Class A/Division 1 history, cultivated by a 4-0 blanking of Grand Blanc in the Division 1 Final on Saturday at Michigan State University’s DeMartin Stadium. 

Saline finished this spring with a brilliant 0.16 goals-against-average over 25 games with 22 shutouts, the most in Class A/Division 1 history and third-most overall on the MHSAA record list. Hudsonville Unity Christian’s 24 shutouts in 27 games during 2011 is the all-time best.

“Our chemistry is amazing,” said Saline senior goalkeeper Sophia Sweier, a second-team all-state keeper last season and one of Michigan’s top net minders this season. “A lot of us have been playing together for years with (club and high school) and that makes a difference. We are so close.”

The championship was Saline’s first in girls soccer.

“I think it was really at the end of last season when we thought that this could be a special season for us,” said Saline coach Dana Restrick, whose team broke several team and individual school records this spring. “Last year we lost to a nearly-unbeatable team in Northville (in the Regional Final). We played really well in that loss. We had a lot of players coming back this season, and I think that we really got a taste of what it takes to get to that next level.

“A lot of my seniors have played together since they were 7 or something,” continued Restrick. “The chemistry is definitely there. We coach them very specifically on what to do at all times. These girls are so coachable. They take everything that we say and do what we coach them to do in different scenarios. This is something that we have been building for the last couple of years. That we came together and played as a team is what helped us achieve the goal of being state champions.”

Unbeaten Saline, which finished the campaign 22-0-3 and entered the postseason ranked sixth, opened the scoring with 32:41 left in the first half. Senior Danielle Rathfon’s shot rang off the crossbar and goal post and senior Molly O’Sullivan was there to pounce on the rebound from close range. 

The Hornets, making their first-ever appearance in an MHSAA Final, pushed the advantage to 2-0 with 30:18 still left in the opening half when junior Allison Luurtsema’s long shot from near the touch line sailed above traffic and deflected off the fingertips of Grand Blanc goalkeeper Amy Puidokas and into the far corner of the goal. 

Saline, which outshot Grand Blanc 8-5 over the first 40 minutes, cashed in again with 23:22 remaining in the first half when senior Taylor Mulder redirected a cross from senior Amanda Zylsra and tucked the ball home from three yards out. 

Grand Blanc put plenty of pressure on Saline’s bend-but-don’t-break defense in the second half, posting a 6-4 shots edge. But to no avail.

Saline capped the scoring late in the contest when Mulder scored her 43rd goal of the season, a single-season school record, with 1:28 remaining in the contest.

Saline closed its run with nine straight shutouts, including seven during the postseason. The last team to score on the Hornets was Ann Arbor Skyline (in a 5-1 win) in the third-to-last game of the regular season. Saline also gave up a goal to Skyline in mid-April and two goals to Brighton in early April. 

“To go down 2-0 was tough. I think the third goal was what really broke our back,” conceded veteran Grand Blanc coach Greg Kehler. “That team gave up only four goals all season, so that was a tough wall to climb. I thought we could put pressure on them and possibly score. But they are a great defensive team. Dana Restrick’s team is great — they are as good as advertised. They are very good in the back, very organized, they possess well and they have a lot of players who can finish. 

“Saline defines the principals of defending,” noted Kehler. “They got it all. If they weren’t pressuring the ball, they had someone nearby, a cover defender back there to balance the field for them. That’s an experienced team, very well coached. They are very good. No shame losing to that team.”

The Hornets outscored the opposition 104-4 this season, and the four goals against is tied for third fewest allowed in a single season in MHSAA history. Record-holder Livonia Stevenson gave up one goal during the 1997 campaign en route to the Class A championship.

Defensively, Saline held Grand Blanc’s Annie Walker, one of the frontrunners for Miss Soccer, in check. The Hornets’ organized defensive schemes didn’t allow the Bobcats much breathing room all afternoon, constantly covering to quickly plug holes and frustrate Grand Blanc’s attack.

Saline outshot Grand Blanc 12-10 and was opportunistic by finishing four of the six shots on target.

“Annie Walker is an amazing player, and we knew we had to keep someone near her at all times,” Restrick said. “She’s extremely dangerous. And I think that goes back to our defense, always covering for one another. We always make sure that we don’t give the opposing team much space. And it’s not like we outshot them by much. We were fortunate enough to be able to finish (our chances). We have a lot of girls that can score.”

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Saline players rush the field to celebrate with teammates their first MHSAA girls soccer title. (Middle) Saline’s Taylor Mulder (1) works to stay ahead of Grand Blanc’s Alexiss Trudeau.

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.)