Editor’s note: Photo of Shelby’s Ricardo Bahena in the graphic is courtesy of Andy Roberts of the White Lake Beacon and Oceana Herald-Journal.
After some unbelievably close matches this season, Shelby’s boys soccer team escaped unscathed in the West Michigan Conference with a perfect 6-0 record. The Tigers fell just short of a district championship, losing to Big Rapids 2-1 in an overtime showdown.
Whitehall locked in a second-place finish in the conference, posting a 5-1 league record with the only loss to coming to Shelby. The Vikings fell short in a tough district against a top 10-ranked Fruitport squad.
Despite North Muskegon’s third-place finish in the league, the Norse secured a district championship with a 2-0 victory over Ravenna. They progressed through the postseason, defeating McBain Northern Michigan Christian 1-0 in the regional semifinal. The Norse were fell just short against eventual Division 4 state champion Wyoming Potter’s House, 1-0, in the regional final.
Each of those teams has representation in the race to see who becomes the 2021 VanDyk Mortgage Player of the Year for boys soccer. Shelby’s Ricardo Bahena, Whitehall’s Jack Houtteman and North Muskegon’s Hunter Koekkoek have been nominated by a CatchMark SportsNet panel as finalists for the award.
Voting for the conference player of the year in all fall sports will open near the end of the coming week, after we’ve had a chance to announce the nominees in each sport.
Fan polls of all sports will be released in one story on our site. That’s where readers will determine who earns player of the year recognition. Readers will be allowed to vote once per hour as long as the poll remains open.
Once players of the year are determined by fan votes and announced by CatchMark, we will invite the winners to our office in downtown Whitehall for an awards presentation and honorary dinner. A trophy that stays in our CatchMark office will have the names of the players of the year engraved on it.
In the coming days, look for stories announcing the nominees for girls golf, boys cross country, girls cross country and boys tennis. A football story published on Friday, and a volleyball story on Saturday.
Here are the three nominees for the conference player of the year award in boys soccer, along with their season stats and achievements. They are listed alphabetically:
Shelby, senior, forward
The Shelby senior was a force to be reckoned with throughout the season. Bahena demonstrated masterful skills when finishing his goals as well as distributing the ball. Bahena had a knack for anticipating ball movement and reading the field.
Bahena was a driving force behind Shelby’s undefeated conference championship season and played a large role in the Tigers’ 13-5-1 overall record.
In 19 games this season, Bahena scored 17 goals and racked up 10 assists. The senior’s pass completion was 91 percent. His notable hustle resulted in 50-50 ball wins in most occasions.
Bahena earned honorable mention all-conference honors and he was all-district and all-region, plus he is an anticipated member of the all-state team, per coach Jairo Coronado.
Whitehall, junior, midfield
The junior authority for Whitehall has become a difference-maker on both ends of the field. Houtteman paced the Vikings’ offense throughout the season by creating opportunities for his teammates to make big plays in addition to his personal contribution. Houtteman’s ability to see the field and exploit opponent weaknesses became a dangerous weapon for the Vikings.
Houtteman powered Whitehall to a six-game winning streak in the second half of the season and a runner-up finish in the WMC.
In 18 games this season, he tallied eight goals and five assists as a midfielder. His intangible strengths may have been the most impressive. The driven Houtteman strived to make his teammates better and contributed to key midfield plays that often set the tone for the Vikings.
Houtteman earned first-team all-conference and first-team all-district honors. All-region and all-state honors have yet to be announced from Whitehall coach Bryan Mahan.
North Muskegon, senior, midfield
The senior midfielder has been a significant threat throughout the entire season for North Muskegon. Coaches describe him as a tremendous player with outstanding versatility. Koekkoek utilized his adaptable play style to fill roles necessary to win big games.
Koekkoek led his team to a district championship against Ravenna and a regional semifinal victory over state-ranked McBain Northern Michigan Christian.
In 25 games this season, Koekkoek had four goals and six assists mostly from a defensive midfield position. He controlled the ball movement on the field and sparked opportunities for his teammates to shine.
Koekkoek earned first-team all-conference, first-team all-district and first-team all-state.
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