By Ron Rop

NORTON SHORES–The North Muskegon Norse girls soccer team is on a mission.

They respect all opponents and remain lazer-focued on their ultimate goal, which is to repeat as the Division 4 state champions.

North Muskegon took another step toward that goal on Friday night with a 2-0 victory over Western Michigan Christian. The game was played at WMC Christian.

The victory pushes the Norse into Tuesday’s regional semifinal game at Cadillac.The opponent will be the winner of the Saturday morning game between Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian and Grand Rapids Covenant Christian.

“These girls have worked so hard in the weight room and you can see they are strong and built to endure that sort of game,” NM coach Caleb Parnin said. “Our girls, in term of physicality, they have earned the right to play physical.”

Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Tim Reilly

Indeed, it was an 80-minute battle on Friday night as both teams endured some hard hits and some bumps and bruises.

North Muskegon got on the board less than 6 minutes into the game when Sam Johnson pushed a ball to the right side of the net and junior Jaley Schultz rolled it into the net.

As the game progressed, the Norse continued to put on pressure in the offensive zone. However, Warrior goalkeeper Libby Mast endured just about everything the Norse could throw at her.

North Muskegon (15-3-1) nearly notched a second goal in the final seconds of the first half when a corner kick by Emily Judd found the head of Pannucci, who sent the ball wide of the net.

It wasn’t until the midpoint of the second half that the Norse were able to notch an insurance goal.

Natalie Pannucci, who was playing in some discomfort after taking a hard hit just a minute earlier, set up the goal when she pushed a ball across the front of the goal mouth and Johnson slid the ball into the vacated net.

“Nat got absolutely smashed in that breakaway situation and the fearlessness to go in again when the goalie comes out,” Parnin said. “But that’s the kind of kid she is. It’s a fearless behavior.”

The Warriors mustered very few quality scoring chances and rarely tested North Muskegon goalkeeper Emma Lamiman.

“Our midfielders just played out of their minds tonight,” Parnin said. “It’s a team effort to defend and we have some speed back there.”

Parnin lauded the efforts of sophomore Spencer Zizak, Katie Kinahan and Allie Jensen and Judd, a defender.

Now comes the task of heading into regionals with a roster void of its five first-team all-staters from a year ago.

“Last year, these girls were on a ride that was so much fun and they got so much attention and joy from it, but this year it’s been different game,” Parnin said. “This is a big deal.”

The Warriors (9-7-5) also have a young team that endured some very serious injuries throughout the season.

“Our biggest thing was to come in and make our presence known for 80 minutes,” said Warrior coach Debbie Pekel. “Really proud of the girls’ effort and grit. It’s hard when you have key players come out with game-ending injuries and you have to make adjustments. Everyone stepped up today.”

All photo’s are courtesy of LSJ photographer Tim Reilly