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North Muskegon senior soccer standouts net 2023 first-team all-state accolades

Sam Johnson and Natalie Pannucci lead four players from West Michigan Conference on all-state squads.

Sam Johnson and Natalie Pannucci formed a formidable one-two scoring punch for North Muskegon’s girls soccer team throughout the 2023 season.

The senior captains and dangerous forwards led the Norse to an undefeated run through the West Michigan Conference as well as to Division 4 district and regional titles. Furthermore, they powered their team to a sixth straight state semifinals appearance.

Accordingly, postseason honors have rolled in for the dynamic duo. Among the accolades for Johnson and Pannucci are Division 4 first-team all-state selections by the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association.

North Muskegon junior defender Kennedi Koekkoek received Division 4 third-team all-state honors, while Montague sophomore midfielder Ava Pelton earned honorable mention all-state recognition in Division 3.

Johnson, who was a Division 4 second-team all-state selection last year, led the Norse this season with 18 goals and 10 assists. All season, she dealt with pain in her hip from a previous injury. Additionally, Johnson played her last four games this season with a cast and protective wrap over her lower left arm after she fractured two bones in the district semifinals.

North Muskegon’s Sam Johnson (12) celebrates her goal in the Norse’s 1-0 victory over Western Michigan Christian in the Division 4 district finals Thursday, June 1, 2023, at Fred Jacks Memorial Field in North Muskegon, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Johnson, the right wing in North Muskegon’s attack, had a string of 10 straight contests with a goal during her team’s 15-game winning streak that ended with a tough 3-1 overtime loss to eventual state champ Kalamazoo Christian in the semifinals. Johnson was a CatchMark SportsNet WMC Player of the Year finalist in 2022 and 2023.

Pannucci is a repeat first-team all-stater for North Muskegon. The left wing was right there with Johnson in goals scored with 17 on the season, plus she notched six assists. She scored her team’s lone goal in the semifinals loss to Kalamazoo Christian on a free kick with just under 15 minutes remaining in regulation. Pannucci also netted a hat trick in a 4-0 regional semifinal win over McBain Northern Michigan Christian.

North Muskegon’s Natalie Pannucci, right, helps keep Sam Johnson’s left arm elevated during a break in the action in the Norse’s district finals win over Western Michigan Christian Thursday, June 1, 2023, at Fred Jacks Memorial Field in North Muskegon, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Pannucci was a two-time winner of the CatchMark SportsNet WMC Player of the Year award, taking it home in 2022 and 2023. Also a talented volleyball player, she will play that sport at Hope College.

Koekkoek set the tone for North Muskegon on defense, but she really did it all for the Norse. Whatever her team needed, that’s what she provided. Koekkoek finished with seven goals and five assists despite seeing limited time at forward.

North Muskegon’s Kennedi Koekkoek helped the Norse capture a Division 4 regional title for the sixth straight season with a win over Harbor Springs Friday, June 9, 2023, at Big Rapids High School’s Cardinal Stadium in Big Rapids, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Behind the talented trio of Johnson, Pannucci and Koekkoek, North Muskegon finished with a 17-4-1 overall record.

Meanwhile, Montague proved a team to be reckoned with this season. The Wildcats posted an 11-6-0 record and they finished third in the West Michigan Conference behind North Muskegon and Fremont. Montague suffered a tough 3-2 shootout loss to Newaygo in the Division 3 district finals.

Pelton was a big reason for the Wildcats’ success. From her midfield position, she tallied 18 goals and five assists. She earned all-conference, all-district and all-region on her way to the all-state honorable mention recognition.

Montague’s Ava Pelton (13) is shown during a game against Whitehall Monday, May 1, 2023, in Montague, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

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

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