By Steve Gunn
NORTH MUSKEGON – Caleb Parnin has been on the loser’s side several times against Western Michigan Christian.
Now he knows what it’s like to beat the Warriors in a postseason game, because his North Muskegon girls team, ranked No. 1 in the state, blanked WMC 6-0 on Friday in the Division 4 district championship matchup at North Muskegon High School.
The Norse, now 16-1-1 on the season, move on to the regional semifinals on Tuesday in Cadillac, with hopes of advancing far beyond that game in their ongoing bid for an elusive state championship.
Western Michigan Christian finished with a 10-7-1 record.
“That was the team we always lost to,” said Parnin, the first-year coach of the Norse girls squad.. “Every season, we played Western Michigan Christian and got our butts kicked. Now it feels pretty good to be on the other side of things, with this great team.”
Parnin is a new coach in a unique position.
After 11 years of teaching in the Chicago area, he returned in 2019 to teach and coach at his alma mater. He was going to serve one year as the assistant girls soccer coach last spring, before taking over this year, but the 2020 campaign was lost to COVID.
So he stepped right into the head coaching job this season, and was blessed to inherit a talented team that has all the skills and experience to make a serious run for a state title.
The Norse were state semifinalists in 2018 and 2019, losing by one goal to Kalamazoo Christian in the Final Four each year. About 10 of the current players were on the 2019 team, and they are hungry to take the final step and win it all for their program.
Winning the district title on Friday was just the first step.
“Everyone talks about how last year’s team would have been so good, then I looked at these girls and I knew we had a group that could make some noise in the tournament,” Parnin said. “These girls want this so badly, they are ready to do whatever it takes. They have worked so hard. They says players win games and coaches lose them, and I don’t want to screw it up for them!”
The Norse displayed a diverse offensive attack against the Warriors.
All-everything senior forward Hope Johnson scored a pair of goals, which never surprises everyone. But the Norse also demonstrated a lot of potential for the future, with three underclassmen scoring the other goals.
Sophomore Natalie Pannucci scored twice while freshman Katie Kinahan and sophomore Jalie Schultz each scored once.
“In games that we have won by a few goals, you look at the number of players who scored, and it’s just unreal,” Parnin said. “Because of the way our seniors play, we can put (younger players) in big situations and they don’t feel as much pressure.”
The game looked like it might get out of hand early when Johnson scored less than a minute into the contest, then Pannucci scored just over the three minute mark.
The Norse made it 3-0 when Kinehan scored on a wide shot that just found the corner of the net with 10:26 left in the first half.
The score could have been far worse, but junior WMC goalkeeper Elizabeth Mast played extremely well, stopping 13 of 17 North Muskegon shots on goal in the first half. The other save came from one of her defenders close to the goal.
“She played outstanding today,” WMC Coach Kevin Butler said about Mast. “She responded extremely well. Honestly, I thought the whole team played well. (North Muskegon) is an outstanding soccer team. I hope they do well, and hopefully go to a state final. We’re still proud of how we played against them. It’s just that when you play a good team like this, when you make mistakes they make you pay.”
North Muskegon outshot WMC 9-1 in the second half and collected goals from Johnson, Pannucci and Schultz.
Norse senior goalkeeper Syann Fairfield played most of the game and only had to make one save. Freshman Emma Lamiman finished in goal and also made a save.