By Jacob Arvidson
NORTH MUSKEGON – The century mark.
Last week that dream became a reality for North Muskegon soccer star Justice Sikkema when he scored his 100th career goal.
The senior striker had already notched goals 96 through 99 that night, to give his team a 3-1 lead over the Hart Pirates. But with time winding down, and a road game next on the schedule, self-imposed pressure began to build for Sikkema to score his milestone goal at home.
“I was getting nervous,” said Sikkema, who doubles as the placekicker for the North Muskegon varsity football team. “It was getting late in the game and I really wanted to get that 100th goal at home. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if I didn’t because we’ve got a long season, but I definitely wanted it.”
His wish came true. Sikkema received a through ball and used his speed to turn the opportunity into a one-on-one with the Hart goalkeeper. As he had done 99 times before, Sikkema tucked the ball around the keeper and found the back of the net.
“It was a great run,” said North Muskegon Coach Jeremy Tjapkes, whose team is off to a 4-0 start this season. “He cut on the keeper and finished a nice one. Obviously it’s a great milestone for him and better yet, it put the icing on the game for us. The goal had meaning. It wasn’t like one of those 8-0 games.”
Tjapkes has watched Sikkema score dozens of goals ever since the striker joined the Norsemen in 2013 as a freshman.
His totals have increased each season. As a freshman he scored 21 goals, then followed it up with 34 as a sophomore and 36 as a junior. This year, with 11 goals after just four games, Sikkema is on pace to set a personal high mark once again.
Tjapkes knew the kind of talent Sikkema had before the youngster played a varsity game. He and teammate Spencer Mueller had trained with the varsity squad as eighth-graders in 2012.
Though Sikkema generally steals the headlines, he insists his success wouldn’t be possible without Mueller, who plays both central defense and central midfield for the Norsemen.
“He’s been with me since the beginning,” Sikkema said about Mueller. “He’s just done so much for me. It’s hard for him when he’s not getting the credit like I am for scoring the goals, but he’s there for 90 percent of the work.”
Having two strong seniors he can count on has been a blessing for Tjapkes and the North Muskegon soccer program.
“Those two, coming in as freshman, were best friends on the field,” Tjapkes said. “They just work so hard for each other and really understand each other. There are moments in the game where I try and connect those two together just to allow them to do what they do best, and that’s play together and read each other.
“Their friendship and all the years they’ve played together is carrying over to our varsity team.”
At 5-foot-11 and 155 pounds, Sikkema possesses just the rights sze and speed to beat defenders in multiple ways. But Tjapkes says his best attributes are his work ethic and leadership.
“I’ve never had to look at him and think he’s taking plays off,” Tjapkes said. “The only time he takes plays off is if I’ve left him in the game too long and he’s exhausted. He just outworks everybody.
“He works hard. He understands the game. He has that natural ability to be a leader. Kids tend to cling on to that and it’s been easy for him to be our leader, especially this year with the maturity and experience he’s gained from other years.”
That maturity and experience will be key in the Norsemen’s 2016 campaign as they push toward a West Michigan Conference crown.
The Norse have finished second in the conference for the past two years, behind perennial champion Whitehall.
But North Muskegon, with Sikkenga leading the charge, appears ready to pose a serious challenge this season. The first bit of hard evidence came on Tuesday, when the Norse beat Whitehall 4-0 on the Vikings’ home field. Not surprisingly, Sikkema scored twice.
It’s early in the season and the two teams will meet again, but Sikkema said the victory was a great sign for his team.
“It felt good to get over the hurdle,” he said. “I’ve never beat them in my four years and it’s good to get it out of the way. This can’t end our season but it’s good to get out ahead in the conference.”