By Jacob Arvidson

WHITEHALL – Losing nine seniors to graduation is usually a devastating blow for a high school basketball team.

The Whitehall boys team was faced with that reality this season, after standouts CJ Watson, Keenan Aylor and seven other seniors graduated in the spring.

They were the backbone of a team that posted a 17-5 record and won a share of the West Michigan Conference championship last season.

Whitehall guard Lucas Schumm slices through the Montague defense last season. Photo/Tim Reilly

With the heavy losses, most people assumed that Whitehall would be less successful this winter.

But the Vikings will enter Thursday’s early-season showdown against neighborhood-rival Montague with a 5-1 overall record and an unblemished 4-0 mark in the West Michigan Conference.

The secret to their success? It’s point guard Lucas Schumm. The senior has become the undisputed star of a team that’s taking a lot of people by surprise.

“We returned Luc, and I knew he was going to be one of the best players in the league and area,” said Whitehall Coach Nate Aardema. “So much of basketball goes through your point guard, at just about every level now. If you’ve got a good point guard, then you can be competitive.”

Schumm transferred to Whitehall from Reeths-Puffer after his freshman year. He joined the Vikings varsity squad as a sophomore and immediately made an impact, averaging six points and two assists per game.

As a junior he became a key part of a talented rotation, averaging 14 points and 2.5 assists. This season he’s taken it up yet another notch, averaging 17 points and five assists.

That type of performance was not expected. When Schumm transferred to Whitehall, Aardema assumed he would be more of a role player than a standout.

“The report was that he’s probably not very good, that he’s pretty small,” Aardema said. “Then he started coming to workouts and open gyms and we realized he was pretty good.”

Schumm’s strength is his versatility and overall lack of weaknesses. His passing, dribbling, vision, rebounding and defense are all above average, according to Aardema. Those skills, coupled with his knowledge and understanding of the game, make him hard to stop.

Lucas Schumm drives to the basket against North Muskegon last season. Photo/Tim Reilly

“I like to pass the ball and make my teammates look good,” Schumm said. “When you’re a scorer, defenses can just load up on you and neutralize you, but if you’re a guy that likes to pass the ball and make his teammates better, it makes you very difficult to stop.

“Then opponents have to plan to stop five, not just one, and I think that’s the most effective way to play.”

The 5-foot-10 Schumm demonstrated his ability to shine at key moments last week against North Muskegon, one of the preseason favorites in the West Michigan Conference. He rallied his team in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of his 22 points, to lift the Vikings to a 50-44 win.

“He’s the unquestioned leader,” Aardema said. “The guys gravitate toward him. A lot of our offense runs through him. We have quite a few other guys who are good players, but his work ethic and the amount of time he puts into the game have earned him the right to have a lot of the stuff run through him.”

Schumm will need to come up big against Montague on Thursday. The Wildcats are also undefeated in the conference, so the traditional neighborhood rivalry is also a league showdown game.

“I’ve never lost to Montague and I take a lot of pride in that,” Schumm said. “It’s such a big rivalry. If I could finish my career undefeated against Montague, that would be a great accomplishment.”

The Vikings have had the upper hand against Montague, winning five of the last six meetings, but prior to that the Wildcats dominated for several years.

“We have to rebound better than we did against North Muskegon,” Aardema said. “Emotions are going to be high and the atmosphere will be pretty electric, so it will be about which team can play with more poise, withstand the runs, and stay focused on individual possessions.”