By Adam Knorr
WHITEHALL – The Whitehall boys basketball team is facing a little bit of pressure over the next week.
After leading the West Michigan Conference for most of the season, the Vikings have suddenly lost two of their last three league games.
Now they must win their last two conference matchups – Friday night at Montague and a week later at Hart – to guarantee at least a tie for the title.
But pressure is nothing new for the Vikings, and they usually come out on top. Five of their victories this year, including four in the conference, have been by six points or less.
One reason they usually prevail is an abundance of offensive talent, starting with seniors CJ Watson and Keenan Aylor and junior Lucas Schumm.
With that talented trio leading a small but fast lineup, Whitehall is a fair bet to win any time it takes the court.
The Vikings are 13-3 overall and 10-2 in the conference, good for a first place tie with defending league champion Shelby. They won their first nine conference games before the recent slump.
“We look forward to (getting everyone’s best shot),” Watson said. “Especially in our position now, we know people are going to come at us hard as they can, so we just focus on each game and keep going at them.”
Schumm, a rotating guard, is leading the team with a 16.2 scoring average this season.
“Luc is a really, really confident kid,” said Whitehall Coach Nate Aardema. “He’s confident because he put in the work. Confidence is an earned thing. You don’t wake up one day and decide to be confident.”
Whitehall’s other premier guard, Watson, is averaging 12.8 points per game and leads the team with an 8.3 rebounding average. He also dishes out 3.2 assists and 2.5 steals per contest.
“CJ excels at just about everything, quite honestly, and it’s no coincidence,” Aardema said. “He’s a great worker. He spent all fall and summer in the gym trying to get ready for this season.”
Aylor, also a football standout, levels out the trio with 11.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
While the talented athlete could probably put up bigger offensive numbers, Aylor decided to slow things down this season, and focus on being a role player, rather than trying to provide the bulk of the scoring.
“Last year I guess I didn’t trust my teammates as much, so I kind of didn’t pass, I shot more than I should have,” Aylor said. “But this year I realize we have a lot of good players, and if I pass more, we’ll probably play better.”
Schumm, Watson, Aylor and their teammates were disappointed with the recent losses – 48-37 to Shelby on Feb. 5 and 66-61 to North Muskegon on Tuesday. They beat both of those teams earlier in the season.
“We just have to bounce back and use it as motivation,” Aylor said.
The Vikings feel confident they can regroup and bring home a championship trophy as the regular season draws to a close. And they don’t need any extra motivation, with the next game against neighborhood rival Montague.
“There’s no feeling sorry for ourselves,” Schumm said. “We don’t feel anything because we know we have Montague next. We want Montague because they are just across the bridge and we think we can beat them, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
“Our goal is to control what we can right now,” Aardema said. “We’re going to try to get ready for Montague. Whether we’re 10-2 or 10-0 or whatever in the league, we want to win this one. It’s the next game that’s always the most important.”