By Jason Millis

NORTH MUSKEGON – Missing the 2020 spring season disrupted a lot of sports programs at many schools, but the North Muskegon girls soccer team is playing like it never skipped a beat.

The latest example came on Thursday, when the Norse shut out conference rival Whitehall 8-0 at home in West Michigan Conference play to remain undefeated.

Five players scored for the Norse, led by Hope Johnson with a hat trick and Natalie Pannucci with two goals.

Hope Johnson pushes the ball upfield for North Muskegon. Photo/Leo Valdez

The rivals had not played since the Norse defeated Whitehall 9-4 in the West Michigan Conference championship game in May of 2019.

“This competition between Whitehall and North Muskegon is a fun one,” said North Muskegon Coach Caleb Parnin. “We practiced harder because we knew we had Whitehall this week. It’s a great competition, it’s a great rivalry, and for us, it means a lot. These girls couldn’t sleep last night they were so excited for this game.”

North Muskegon moves to 6-0 for the season, with a conference record of 3-0. The Vikings fell to 3-3 overall, with a 2-1 record in conference play.

A large part of North Muskegon’s success comes from the team’s leadership. The Norse have eight seniors on the roster, four of whom are team captains who were dying to get back on the field this year.

Heading into the season, the girls worked tirelessly to prepare for the season, checking in with their teammates, watching old game footage, and working through leadership training.

“You can see these girls not only want to win, they expect to win,” Parnin said. “I think the leadership of our captains is helping us get better every day, which is what we want.”

North Muskegon’s offense put the pressure on Whitehall from the get-go, rarely letting the ball leave Viking territory.

Audrey Wilson put the Norse on the board with 35:33 left in the first half. Johnson scored her first goal with 17:35 left in the half, followed by another less than two minutes later.

Emily Olsen shot in a pass from Johnson to give North Muskegon a 4-0 lead. Then Olsen threw in the ball to Johnson, who scored her final goal to cap off off her hat trick with 5:33 until halftime.

Audrey Wilson goes to kick the ball as Whitehall’s No. 22 Jayden Sheehy trails. Photo/Leo Valdez

“In the first half, we wanted to move the ball around,” said Coach Parnin. “They did a great job of finding open spaces and finding the right people to score those goals. It was exactly what we wanted them to play like.”Pannucci opened the second half with her first goal of the night off a pass from Olsen. Just five minutes later, Emily Judd scored on a header to give the Norse a 7-0 lead with 32:47 on the clock. Pannucci put the Norse ahead 8-0 with another goal, ending the game by mercy rule with 22:08 left on the clock.

“Before we got into the game, we knew this was going to be a really intense game,” said Johnson. “We knew that we had to play hard, and I think it really reflected when we got onto the field. Everything was super clean, and it worked out really well for us.”

Goalie Syann Fairfield tallied four saves on the night against the Norse. Whitehall goalie Gwen Gould recorded seven saves against a tough Norse offense.

The Norse outshot the Vikings 18-4.

Whitehall Coach Dan Nichols explained that the Vikings knew it would be a battle coming into the game.

“They’re a good team, and they played pretty sharp,” said Nichols. “It was a tough loss tonight for sure, but I know we can play better than we played tonight.”

Whitehall’s Aleigha Mack. Photo/Leo Valdez

Whitehall’s No. 6 Ryleigh Mott races for the ball against Kennedi Koekkoek. Photo/Leo Valdez