Whitehall rolled to West Michigan Conference and district titles in volleyball this season.
Shelby also captured a district championship, while North Muskegon came very close while giving top-ranked Western Michigan Christian a big scare in the district finals.
Each of those teams has representation in the race to see who becomes the 2021 VanDyk Mortgage West Michigan Conference Player of the Year for volleyball. Shelby’s Navea Gauthier, North Muskegon’s Natalie Pannucci and Whitehall’s Rayne Thompson 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 next 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 boys soccer, girls golf, boys cross country, girls cross country and boys tennis. A football story published on Friday.
Here are the three nominees for the conference player of the year award in volleyball, along with their season stats and achievements. They are listed alphabetically:
Shelby, freshman, outside hitter
The word is out on Gauthier: She’s one of the top, young prospects in the state — on the radar of every major volleyball program in the country and in the USA Volleyball pipeline.
Gauthier powered Shelby to a Division 3 district title and 36-10-1 season, as the Tigers more than doubled their win total from 2020.
In 116 games this season, Gauthier amassed 697 kills with a .335 kill efficiency. She totaled 463 digs, 100 aces, 52 blocks and 23 assists.
Gauthier earned first-team all-conference and all-region honors. All-state accolades are yet to be released. She also led the Tigers to championships in Ludington, Wayland and Shelby invites.
Gauthier made the cut for the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Phenom List. She plays for the Far Out club team based in Grand Rapids.
North Muskegon, junior, middle blocker
Also a standout performer on North Muskegon’s state championship soccer team, the 5-foot-11 Pannucci has become a force on the volleyball court.
Norse coach Kammi Eacker said this was Pannucci’s first season playing all the way around and serving. In the past, the middle blocker played only in the front row, and now she’s added a lot to her game.
In 127 sets this season, Pannucci totaled 410 kills, 194 digs, 228 service points with 29 aces, and 61 blocks. In serve-receive, she was 434 of 499 with a passing rating of two.
“Pretty great numbers for digs, serve-receive and serving, especially for someone who just started doing all of that this year,” Eacker said.
North Muskegon (27-22-2) finished runner-up behind Whitehall in the West Michigan Conference. The Norse pushed Division 3 top-ranked Western Michigan Christian to five sets in the district finals.
Whitehall, senior, outside hitter
The Vikings’ senior was a team leader and picture of perseverance, returning from an ACL injury that cost her the 2020 season and returning to the dominant player many expected her to be.
Listed at 5-foot-10, Thompson produced some big numbers for a team that rolled to West Michigan Conference and Division 2 district titles. She finished with 1,166 attacks and 566 kills, which both rank third in Whitehall history for a single season. She also had 374 digs, 60 aces and 53 blocks.
Thompson was a three-year varsity starter, who has earned all-region and is expected to receive all-state accolades again. In her career, she totaled 2,851 attacks (third all-time) and 1,246 kills (third all-time), along with 902 digs.
Veteran Whitehall coach Ted Edsall, who completed his 35th season at the helm, said that Thompson is one of the best six rotation players to ever suit up for the Vikings.
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