By Aaron Poling

MONTAGUE – In a normal year, the undefeated Montague girls basketball team would already be crowned West Michigan Conference champions for the second season in a row.

But as we all know, the 2021 high school basketball season has been anything but normal.

No. 21 Karleigh Jeffries tries to control the ball against Montague’s Claire Meacham. Photo/Leo Valdez

According to reports, conference athletic directors have not determined if there will be champions in boys and girls basketball, because every team will not play all the other teams twice, due to the condensed schedule.

But the Wildcats, who defeated rival Whitehall 37-29 on Monday, will certainly consider themselves champions, whether there’s a trophy involved or not. The Wildcats have already won in the standings, because they have a three-game lead over second-place Hart with two league games remaining.

“With all of the turmoil surrounding the season, I want our girls to be able to celebrate what they’ve accomplished,” said Montague Coach Cody Kater, whose team is improved to 13-0 overall and 12-0 in conference play with the win over Whitehall. “If we play everybody twice (which they will), and have the least amount of conference losses, we should be crowned conference champions.”

Braquelle Osborne floats a pass over Whitehall’s No. 33 Greta Hosticka. Photo/Leo Valdez

The calling card of the 2021 Wildcats, ranked No. 9 in the state in Division 2, has been their tenacious defense. Only the very talented Ludington Orioles have scored more than 40 points against Montague this season.

“We hang our hats on defense,” Kater said about his team. “We weren’t great as a group last year defensively, but all offseason our girls have put in the work to become all-around athletes.”

That stingy defense came into play again on Monday. The Wildcats did not allow a field goal until Karleigh Jeffries scored for Whitehall with 2:19 left in the first quarter. The only other field goal the Wildcats allowed in the first eight minutes was a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Camryn Evans.

The Wildcats led 9-5 at the first break. 

The buzzer-beater sparked an 11-0 run by the Vikings that extended into the second quarter and gave the Whitehall a 13-9 lead with 5:56 left. Montague’s Braquelle Osborne ended the outburst with a three-pointer, then Janae Koetje added two more points to give Montague a slim 14-13 lead at halftime.

Sarah Van Dam reaches for a rebound against Montague’s No. 33 Janae Koetje. Photo/Leo Valdez

The teams traded buckets in the third quarter before an 8-0 Montague run pushed the lead to 28-22 headed into the fourth. Claire Meacham propelled the run by scoring four of the eight points.

The Montague defense took over down the stretch, allowing Whitehall only seven points in the fourth quarter.

“We try to look like we’re having fun while playing defense,” Coach Kater said. “As a player you’re only taking shots five percent of the time. We talk about the other 95 percent all the time.”

“They are really athletic at every spot,” Whitehall Head Coach Derek Westerlund, whose team is now 8-6 overall and 6-5 in the conference. “They are big, and they have two or three girls that they can rotate inside. They are very crafty, and get a lot of steals. They don’t really have a weakness at the defensive end.”

Braquelle Osborne and Ally Hall paced the Wildcats with seven points apiece, while Kendall Osborne and Koetje recorded six apiece.

The Vikings were led by Karleigh Jeffries with nine points, while Greta Hosticka and Charley Klint finished with seven points each.