By Justin Haggerty

WHITEHALL – The Whitehall girls basketball team is heating up at the right time.

After a 1-4 start to the season, the Vikings entered Tuesday with a winning record, and have been steadily clawing their way up the West Michigan Conference standings.

Katelyn Goodrich brings the ball up the floor with Montague’s Sydney Stine pursuing. Photo/Leo Valdez

On Tuesday night, they extended their hot streak against archrival Montague.

Whitehall, now 9-7 overall and 6-5 in conference play, jumped out to an early 5-0 lead and never trailed en route to a 44-34 victory.

“We’re really starting to improve, it’s starting to come together,” said Whitehall head coach Derek Westerlund. “We’re getting there for sure.”

Whitehall features six sophomores on its roster. While their inexperience contributed to the slow start this season, team confidence is growing as the young players’ skills are improving.

“They’re a big part of the team for sure,” Westerlund said about his sophomores. “I think their confidence and belief in themselves is just growing and growing. They’re playing a huge part in our growth. It’s fun to watch.”

One of those sophomores, Kacy Jeffries, led the Vikings with 14 points while senior Julie Brown added 12 points and pulled down eight rebounds in the win over Montague.

Whitehall led 11-4 after the first quarter, after the Wildcats made only two of eight shots from the field.

Courteney Lohman fights for the loose possession with Whitehall’s Julie Brown and Abby Seeger (on the floor). Photo/Leo Valdez

Neither team shot particularly well in the first half, but Whitehall hit four 3-pointers and made 5 of 11 free throw attempts, while Montague missed all four of its free throw opportunities.

The Vikings led 27-18 at halftime.

Whitehall extended its lead to 16 after three quarters. The Vikings shot 40 percent in the quarter while the Wildcats hit only 25 percent of their shots.

The Wildcats won the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late. Montague was hurt by 21 turnovers on the night.

Montague was led by Claudia Rumsey, who had a game-high 16 points and nine rebounds.

“I thought we ran our sets rather well at points, and at other points, we couldn’t set anything up and be patient and find the right shot,” said Montague head coach Cody Kater, whose team fell to 7-8 overall and 6-5 in the conference. “I credit their defense, they’ve obviously been working on it.”

For Westerlund and the Vikings, the victory was extra sweet, because it came against a rival they love to beat.

“I’m always complaining that we could have done better, but it’s a win,” Westerlund said. “That’s the first time a lot of these girls have beaten Montague since middle school. It’s a win over a good Montague team so we’ll take it.

“The girls are excited. We’re getting better and having fun.”