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Player of the Year

Meet the West Michigan Conference Player of the Year finalists for 2023-24 winter sports

Voting will be open 8 a.m. Monday, March 18, 2024, through 8 a.m. Monday, April 1, 2024.

The 2023-24 winter sports season is in the books as far as the West Michigan Conference is concerned.

It’s time for CatchMark SportsNet to proceed with its WMC Player of the Year series. Today, we announce three finalists in each of seven winter sports: Boys basketball, girls basketball, boys wrestling, girls wrestling, boys bowling, girls bowling, and competitive cheer.

In a few days, it’ll be time for you to vote for Player of the Year in each sport, over and over again. You’ll have a two-week window to continue voting. You’ll be allowed to vote once per hour in each fan poll.

Durga Insurance Group is title sponsor of the CatchMark SportsNet West Michigan Conference Player of the Year for fall, winter, and spring seasons.

A panel consisting of Scott DeCamp, CatchMark SportsNet lead, along with Jordan Durga and Justin Durga, partners for the title sponsor, met to determine three finalists for Player of the Year in each of seven winter sports. It was a very tough call in some cases having to whittle lists down to three finalists, but the panel believes that any of the three finalists in each sport is deserving of winning the award.

Ultimately, it’s up to you, the voters.

Fan polls open at 8 a.m. Monday, March 18, and they’ll close at 8 a.m. Monday, April 1.

CatchMark called an audible for the Player of the Year banquet in the 2023-24 school year. Rather than hosting a smaller banquet after each of the three sports seasons, we’re putting together one bigger banquet. It’s set for 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, 2024, at Whitehall High School, 3100 W. White Lake Dr., with the meal in the Viking Center and awards ceremony in the auditorium.

We’re also working on introducing a new twist to our Player of the Year series at the year-end banquet. Stay tuned for an announcement on that later on.

Below are the Player of the Year finalists for boys basketball, girls basketball, boys wrestling, girls wrestling, boys bowling, girls bowling, and competitive cheer, along with brief capsules highlighting each finalist and mention of others nominated for each sport.


DAVID SHILLINGER, Ludington: The 5-foot-8 senior combo guard and four-year varsity starter is the all-time leading boys scorer in Ludington High School and in Mason County history with 1,776 career points. He set Ludington’s single-season scoring record with 649 points and tied the single-game scoring record with 45 points. … The all-state candidate averaged 25 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 steals, and 2.2 steals per game this season. … Shillinger shot 55 percent from inside the 3-point arc and 33 percent beyond it. … Pound-for-pound one of the toughest players in the area. … Ludington was 19-7 overall this season, second in the WMC Lakes Division at 10-2, and won a Division 2 district title.

CAMDEN THOMPSON, Whitehall: The 6-foot-5 junior wing won the CatchMark SportsNet WMC Player of the Year award as a freshman and sophomore. … MLive included him among 25 players to watch for the 2025 Michigan Mr. Basketball award. … Thompson was a scoring and rebounding machine for the Vikings this season. The all-state candidate averaged 20.7 points, 17.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.9 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. … He shot 52 percent inside the 3-point arc, 32 percent from beyond the arc, and 69 percent at the free-throw line. … Whitehall was 22-0 in the regular season, 12-0 in the WMC Lakes, and ranked in the top five of the state. The Vikings fell to Spring Lake in the Division 2 district semifinals in overtime and finished 22-1.

BLAKE WEIRICH, Hart: The 6-foot-5 senior wing/forward had to fill a big void left by the graduation of Parker Hovey from the 2022-23 Pirates team that went unbeaten in the regular season and he did his best impression. … Weirich averaged 20.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.8 blocks per game. … He shot 39 percent from 3-point range. … He was the top vote-getter on the All-WMC Rivers Division honor squad. … Hart finished with a 13-11 overall record and competed in Division 2 of the state tournament, falling in the district semifinals. The Pirates went 9-3 in the WMC Rivers, runner-up behind undefeated champion North Muskegon. … Weirich also played a key role on last year’s Hart squad as a strong complement to Hovey.

Others nominated: Isaiah Atchison (Montague), Adam Dugener (North Muskegon), Lamarkis Graham (North Muskegon), Kal Koehler (Whitehall).



JESSICA BENNETT, Fremont: The 6-foot senior was a team captain and she was about as clutch as a player could get in the Packers’ historic season. … Bennett played anywhere from the 2-5 positions on the floor, hitting 3-pointers well beyond the arc and swatting away shots near the basket. … She averaged 13.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 blocks, 1.7 steals, and 1.5 assists per game. Packers coach Peter Zerfas believes that because his team was so balanced, Bennett could have put up even better stats on another team. … Bennett had a school-record 13 blocks in one game and 12 blocks in another. … She averaged nearly a triple-double in three district games. … Fremont finished 20-6 overall, 12-0 in the WMC Lakes, and won conference and district titles in the same season for the first time since 1978.

ADDI HOVEY, Hart: The 5-foot-11 wing/forward is one of the finest athletes in the area. She’s an All-American high jumper, who is also an all-state sprinter in track. … On the basketball court, Hovey was first-team all-state in the 2022-23 season when Hart went 24-4 and made a run to the Division 3 state semifinals at the Breslin Center. … This season, she averaged 14.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 3.5 steals. … Hart finished this season with a 17-6 overall record and 12-0 mark in the WMC Rivers Division. The Pirates lost a tough 42-37 game to Ludington in the Division 2 district semifinals before the Orioles went on to win the district and advance to the regional finals.

WREN NELSON, Mason County Central: The 6-foot-4 senior center was an three-time All-West Michigan Conference performer for the Spartans. … Nelson finished with 980 career points, just shy of the 1,000-point milestone, and she ranks sixth on MCC’s all-time girls scoring list. … This season, she averaged 13.0 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks. … Nelson shot 65 percent from the floor and posted 13 double-doubles. … Mason County Central posted a 19-5 overall record this season, 10-2 in the WMC Rivers to place runner-up behind Hart. … The Spartans have won 38 games in the last two seasons combined. … MCC advanced to the district finals, where the shorthanded Spartans lost to host Manton. Nelson was injured in the district semifinals two days earlier.

Others nominated: Abby Hicks (Hart), Anna Lundquist (Oakridge), Mallory Miller (Mason County Central), Peyton Welch (Ludington).



GAVIN CRANER, Whitehall: The junior went 54-0 this season and steamrolled to the Division 3 state title at 175 pounds. He made it four seasons in a row that Whitehall has boasted an undefeated state champion. … He was a state runner-up last season at Belding before he transferred to Whitehall. … Craner earned his 150th career win during MHSAA individual state finals weekend. His career record currently sits at 155-11. … Craner was a team leader for a Whitehall wrestling squad that finished as Division 3 state runner-up to powerhouse Dundee for a second straight year.

DARNELL MACK, Whitehall: The senior went 53-2 this season and placed third at the Division 3 state finals in the 150-pound weight class. … Mack was an all-stater as a junior as well, when he posted a 50-9 record and took fourth at 150 pounds. … Like Craner, Mack was one of the leaders for Whitehall’s wrestling team, which was a Division 3 state runner-up to juggernaut Dundee. … Mack was a finalist CatchMark SportsNet WMC wrestler of the year award last season as well. … He was also a primary running back for Whitehall’s football team in the fall, which posted an unbeaten regular season.

TEE WARD, Fremont: The senior closed his sparkling high school wrestling career with a unique stat line: 4-3-2-1. He placed fourth at the state finals as a freshman, third as a sophomore, second as a junior, and first as a senior. … Ward captured the 138-pound state championship in Division 2 in his senior year, when he sported a 53-1 record. … He was an eye-popping 192-12 in his Fremont career, including 33-5 as a freshman, 49-3 as a sophomore, and 57-3 as a junior. … He was a finalist for the CatchMark SportsNet WMC wrestler of the year last year, too. … Ward has signed with Division I Northern Illinois University.

Others nominated: Alex Hicks (Hart), Hunter Sanford (Mason County Central), Skyler Stalbaum (Hesperia).



AVA PELTON, Montague: The junior for the Lady Mat Cats was the top finisher among girls wrestlers from the West Michigan Conference. Pelton placed third at 155 pounds in the MHSAA individual state finals at Ford Field. She defeated Allendale’s MacKenzie Maka in overtime for third place. She was the only wrestler to beat every ranked girl in her weight class with the exception of one. … Pelton, who also excels in soccer, finished 29-5 on the mat this season for Montague. … She was a state finals qualifier as a freshman and sophomore, including capturing a regional championship this season.

EMMA PENDELL, Montague: This Lady Mat Cats senior made history on the mats. She is the first four-time all-stater for girls or boys in Montague wrestling history. … This season, Pendell placed seventh at 145 pounds in the MHSAA individual state finals at Ford Field. She finished with a 25-6 record in her senior season. … In 2022, the first year girls wrestled alongside boys in the state finals at Ford Field, Pendell captured a title at 140 pounds as a sophomore, becoming Montague’s first state champion since Bill Priese in 1989. … In her junior year, she placed fourth in the state at 140 pounds. … As a freshman, she placed seventh

AVA PIKE, Manistee: The Mariners junior made it to the medal stand at 100 pounds in the MHSAA state finals at Ford Field. … Pike placed eighth to earn all-state honors. She won her first match of the weekend, then fell into wrestlebacks before notching her spot on the medal stand. … Pike closed the season with a 16-10 overall record.

Others nominated: Abby Thommen (Montague), Nyveah Wendt (Mason County Central).



PHOENIX HOFFMEYER, Whitehall: The Vikings senior took first place in the West Michigan Conference tournament with a total score of 671, running away with the title. … Hoffmeyer finished sixth in WMC regular-season scoring average at 178. … He narrowly missed qualifying for the Division 3 state finals, placing 10th with a five-game score of 1070 in regional action at Sherman Bowling Center.

KADEN JOHNSON, Fremont: The Packers senior finished second in regular-season West Michigan Conference scoring with an average of 183. … Johnson placed 10th in the WMC tournament with a total score of 542. … He placed seventh in a Division 3 regional at Sherman Bowling Center, nabbing the final state finals-qualifying spot in shooting a five-game total of 1134.

ASHTON TJAPKES, Orchard View: The Cardinals senior was the No. 1 boys bowler during the regular season in the West Michigan Conference, averaging 184. … Tjapkes finished eighth in the WMC tournament with a total score of 550. … He was Division 3 regional runner-up at Sherman Bowling Center with a five-game total of 1217. … Tjapkes placed fifth in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament with a two-game total of 427.

Others nominated: Aiden Moore (Holton), Aston Yuhasz (Fremont).



TAYLOR NUTT, Ravenna: The Bulldogs freshman posted the top average in the West Michigan Conference regular season, for a girl or boy, at 188. … Nutt placed runner-up in the WMC tournament with a total score of 495. … She placed runner-up in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament with a two-game score of 370. … In the Division 4 individual state finals, Nutt made it through qualifying and into the top 16 for match play, where she lost in a roll-off. … Her Ravenna team won WMC, GMAA, and Division 4 regional titles, and made it into match play at the team state finals.

SOPHIA ROMINE, Fremont: The Packers senior tied for second in West Michigan Conference regular-season scoring average at 160. … She placed seventh in the WMC tournament with a score of 483. … Romine placed third in the Division 3 regional at Sherman Bowling Center with a six-game total of 968. … She made it through the qualifying round in the Division 3 individual state finals at Jax 60 in Jackson and into match play, which placed her in the top 16 in the state.

BREANNA TWINING, Oakridge: The Eagles sophomore tied for second in the West Michigan Conference regular season with an average of 160. … Twining ran away with the title in the WMC tournament with a score of 575, beating the runner-up by 80 pins. … She tied for eighth in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament with a two-game score of 334. … Twining placed fifth in the Division 3 regional at Sherman Bowling Center with a six-game total of 958.

Others nominated: Zariah Burt (Orchard View), Kira Twining (Oakridge).



EMILY ADAMS, Mason County Central: The Spartans senior was voted the CatchMark SportsNet WMC cheerleader of the year last season. … Her resume this season includes All-West Michigan Conference as well as all-district, and all-regional. She’s also a second-team all-stater. … Adams has been cheering on MCC’s varsity team and competing in all three rounds since she was a freshman. … During her MCC career, she has led the Spartans to three conference runner-up finishes, two district runner-up finishes, and a top-eight placing at the Division 4 state finals (2023).

NORA CHICKERING, Hart: The Pirates junior was a CatchMark SportsNet WMC cheerleader of the year finalist last season as well. … This season, Chickering earned All-WMC honors along with all-district and second-team all-region. … Hart coach Ashleigh Hildreth said about Chickering: “She is one of our mostly highly skilled tumblers. She along can get us half of our points for Round 3. Nora has some of the most elegant skills I have ever seen. Nora is by far one of our hardest workers.”

JASMYNE VILLANUEVA, Hart: The Pirates senior received the MVP award for her team this season to go along with earning All-WMC, all-district, and first-team all-region. … Villanueva competed in all three rounds and, according to Hart coach Ashleigh Hildreth, she had the highest level of skill on the team. Hildreth said about Villanueva: “She gives us great vocals and has tight motions. She played a crucial part in our success this season as she is able to fill any position needed. As we entered our postseason, our main base had an injury causing her to come out and Jasmyne took her spot and it was effortless.”

Others nominated: Kiley Miller (Montague), LexiBeth Nienhuis (Hart), Marissa Quillan (Mason County Central), Sophia Zziwambazza (North Muskegon).

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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