Norse beat Whitehall 2-0 in girls soccer, capture second straight conference title

By Justin Haggerty

NORTH MUSKEGON – Nobody can question the North Muskegon girls’ soccer team’s supremacy in the West Michigan Conference.

The Norse capped off their second straight perfect league season with a 2-0 victory over Whitehall on Wednesday in the conference tournament championship game.

North Muskegon’s Megan Sroka goes for the ball against Whitehall’s No. 14 Hannah Sanford and No. 21 Lauren Baustert. Photo/Leo Valdez

“These girls are 20-0 in the conference over the last two years,” said North Muskegon Coach Ryan Berends. “This year in the conference they only had one goal scored against them. They have done extremely well.

“Our defense has been incredible. That’s been a big part of our legacy.”

If any conference opponent was going to have a chance to beat 0North Muskegon this season, it was Whitehall.

The Vikings came into the championship game with only one conference loss this season – to the Norse. A victory would have given Whitehall a share of the league title, but it wasn’t to be.

“I have enjoyed the rivalry growing with North Muskegon,” said Whitehall Coach Dan Nichols. “They are a skilled team that works hard for all they have achieved, and we have to tip our hat to the conference champs.”

The Vikings chances were hurt when standout Hanna Evans left the game in the first half with an injury. Nichols said several other players were also missing from the lineup.

Emma Berends chases down the ball for North Muskegon. Photo/Leo Valdez

“We now have to hope we heal in time for districts to begin,” the coach said. “This holiday is a much-needed break for the girls, physically and mentally. We will go back to work and get back on track quickly. This is too good of a group to not overcome this game.”

North Muskegon appeared to get on the board less than nine minutes into the game when sophomore Grace Berends found the back of the net, but the goal was waived off on a very close offside call right at the goal line.

The Norse did cash in with 29:02 remaining in the first half when Kendal Hoppa and Gwenna Pitts executed a nice give-and-go play into the box, putting pressure on the Whitehall defense.

Hoppa scored from the right wing on a shot that appeared to go off a Whitehall defender, giving North Muskegon a 1-0 lead.

The game took a more somber tone with 12:03 remaining in the first half when Evans, Whitehall’s all-time leading scorer, went down with a leg injury and had to be carried off the field.

Evans was taken to the hospital for further evaluation.

“(The injury) was definitely a momentum shift,” Nichols said. “You could tell we weren’t playing our game the rest of the game, kicking the ball around and just scrambling.

“Nobody was real connected tonight, but I think that definitely played a big part of it.”

Ellie Stevens gets her foot on the high bouncer for Whitehall. Photo/Leo Valdez

Whitehall made one last push to tie before halftime. Ellie Stevens took the ball at the top of the box and drilled the crossbar with 40 seconds remaining.

North Muskegon escaped with a 1-0 halftime lead.

The best scoring chances in the second half belonged to North Muskegon, but Whitehall goalkeeper MacKenzie Bentz made save after save to keep the game close.

The only one to solve Bentz was Pitts, a freshman and North Msukegon’s leading scorer, who got the game’s final goal with 27:55 left.

Pitts controlled the ball on the right wing near the goal line and beat the Whitehall defenders, before lofting a light shot just over Bentz’ head and banking it off the far post.

“Whitehall is the team we love to play,” Berends said. “I think they agree, we love to play each other because we push each other to be better. It’s always a great game.”

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