'Unexpected' Novi Takes Home Title Again

June 15, 2018

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

WILLIAMSTON – The first unexpected development in the eyes of many was that the game was about to go into overtime. 

The next unexpected development was that it didn’t. 

Finally, the last unexpected development was that the team many figured would take home the runner-up trophy this time emerged as champion once again. 

Such was the story of the 2018 MHSAA Division 1 girls soccer championship game at Williamston High School. 

A heavy favorite to win its first championship after three prior losses in the title game, it instead was more Finals heartbreak for Grand Blanc, which saw perennial power Novi add its sixth girls soccer title trophy since 2005 with a 1-0 victory over the Bobcats.

Sophomore Avery Fenchel was the hero for the Wildcats (19-5-1), as she scored the only goal of the game with 3:29 remaining after she took advantage of a miscommunication by Grand Blanc defenders inside their goal box.

What seemed like a routine ball in front of the goal was botched by the Bobcats, and Fenchel took advantage by firing the ball into the open net to send her team into a wild celebration and Grand Blanc players to the ground in dejection. 

“I was just running after it, and it just went into the back of the goal,” Fenchel said. “I just turned around and ran towards my team. I was so excited.”

With seven players signed or committed to Division I college programs, many felt Grand Blanc would have the game well in hand by the time the waning minutes of regulation rolled around. 

But Novi’s defense was firm throughout, and overtime seemed imminent before Fenchel’s goal signaled a much sooner ending. 

Grand Blanc entered the playoffs after winning the Kensington Lakes Activities Association Gold championship, while Novi finished third in the league. Novi lost to Grand Blanc in their regular-season meeting, 3-1, prompting some adjustments heading into the rematch. 

“We kept having our outside forwards drop down more,” Novi head coach Todd Pheiffer said. “Their forwards never go back, and their defenders never really push up. It was finding that space in between the defense and midfielders.

“One thing we worked on at practice is whenever we are defending, it looks like a 4-5-1 (formation). When we are on the attack, it’s a 4-3-3. Just transitioning between those formations. It’s the first time we’ve ever done it, and we worked on it in practice the past two days. The girls did a great job.” 

Grand Blanc ended up holding a 13-10 edge in shots, but many were wayward of the goal and the Bobcats had trouble in general getting serious scoring chances against Novi’s defense. 

Each team hit a crossbar during the game, but the one miscue by Grand Blanc in the final minutes turned out to be the difference.

“I feel terrible for them,” Grand Blanc head coach Greg Kehler said. “It was just a little miscommunication back there on really a harmless ball between our defenders and goalkeeper. But that is just one play in an 80-minute game. We had our chances, but we didn’t take advantage of them to get that lead and (not) have a situation like that arise.”

Each team is filled with non-senior starters and contributors, so a rematch in next year’s playoffs could be in the forecast. 

But for the present time, Novi relished being in the rare role of underdog.

“The girls had a little chip on their shoulder because the press said the entire week that this trophy was Grand Blanc’s,” Pheiffer said. “It was theirs. Everyone was picking against us, and that’s how this whole season has been. This has been a year of redemption for these girls.”

Click for the full box score.

VIDEO: With just over three minutes to play, Novi's Avery Fenchel picks up a loose ball in front of the goal and scores the only goal of the Division 1 Girls Soccer Final.

PHOTOS: (Top) Novi’s Julia Stadtherr (20) embraces teammate Avery Fenchel after the latter’s goal gave her team the lead in Friday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) Grand Blanc’s Samantha Lewis (8) gets her head on the ball just above Fenchel.

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.)