Photos by Scott DeCamp and Amy Yonkman | CatchMark
WHITEHALL – North Muskegon volleyball coach Kammi Eacker remembers what it was like to face rival Whitehall as a player for the Norse back in the day.
“We always really want to beat Whitehall – that’s our biggest conference rival, that’s a big even just hometown rival for us. They’re like right up the road,” she said.
Whitehall was tough to beat then and that still holds true now. The Vikings were on their game Tuesday night, rolling to a 25-10, 25-16, 25-22 victory over the Norse in a matchup of West Michigan Conference unbeatens.
Whitehall improves to 19-2 overall and 6-0 in the league, setting up a big matchup across the bridge next Tuesday at neighboring rival Montague (5-1 West Michigan Conference). North Muskegon slips to 16-11-2 overall and 5-1 in the conference.
“It’s as well as we’ve played all year,” Whitehall coach Ted Edsall said about his team’s performance against North Muskegon. “The key for us is first-contact serving and passing. We went two games without missing a serve and our serve-receive was fantastic.
“I have an all-state setter (senior Maggie Evans) – if we pass good, I know the sets are going to be good, and our attacking was off the charts.”
Evans finished with 38 assists to go with five digs, four kills and two aces. Whitehall’s other all-stater, senior outside hitter Rayne Thompson, also had a big night with 19 kills, five digs and three aces.
Senior Charley Klint packed the stat sheet with 13 digs, eight kills, three blocks and one ace for the Vikings. Freshman Sidney Shepherd added four kills, three blocks and two aces, while junior Chase Baker had three aces, three kills and three digs.
Edsall highlighted the play of his four seniors, a group that also includes Ryleigh Mott, and how they’ve meshing with an improving cast of youngsters.
“What’s really happened is, our four seniors always play good, but our ancillary players are really getting better. That really helps,” he said. “It’s Chase Baker (and) the two freshmen in Bella Fogus and Sidney Shepherd, (who) are getting better and they played well tonight. (In combination with the) four seniors, it’s just tough to beat.”
The first set got away from North Muskegon, but Edsall credited the Norse for coming back stronger in the second and third sets. The third set was tight to the finish.
Eacker was proud of the effort, even though it wasn’t the result the Norse were seeking.
Junior Natalie Pannucci led North Muskegon with 10 kills, four digs, two blocks and one ace. Sophomore Sami Baker totaled 17 assists and three digs. Junior Jaley Schultz registered 11 digs, senior Josee Cooke had eight digs and junior Joslynne Bogner added four kills.
“We’ve been working really hard. We’ve had our eyes on this game for a while and really wanted to come out here and kind of wreck their day,” Eacker said with a laugh. “We didn’t exactly get the outcome that we wanted, but I am really proud of my girls – they never stopped fighting. No matter how big the point deficit was, they were still fighting and wanting to win just as bad.”
Eacker is hoping to get another shot at Whitehall in the Oct. 23 conference tournament back in the Vikings’ gym. The West Michigan Conference title is determined 50 percent by the regular season and 50 percent by the league tourney.
The Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament is Oct. 16 at Mona Shores, and there is a chance Whitehall and North Muskegon could square off there as well.
Fittingly, Whitehall caps the league’s regular-season slate next Tuesday against Montague. The Wildcats may feel as though they have a score to settle with the Vikings, after Whitehall stunned Montague in the Division 2 district finals last season.
Whitehall, which is honorable mention in the latest Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association Division 2 rankings, has already beaten Montague twice this season in various competitions.
“But it’s like I tell my team, it’s hard to beat somebody three times,” Edsall said. “They do a good job over there. We’re not taking anybody for granted and we were really, really prepared for tonight.”
North Muskegon believed it was ready for Tuesday’s match against Whitehall, but the Norse ran into a buzzsaw.
While Eacker is a competitor and was disappointed in the defeat, it did not seem to dampen her enthusiasm in returning to her alma mater as head coach.
“It’s really cool to be able to coach where I went to school. It’s a really cool feeling to be back in my home gym every day. And, you know, I have a lot of Norsemen ties,” said Eacker, who is assisted by her father, Bob Eacker. They were a coaching team at Muskegon High School prior to taking over at North Muskegon this season.
“It’s exciting getting the opportunity to (coach at North Muskegon). I think that makes me want it for them even worse because I know exactly how it feels to have that Whitehall matchup and to have all that build-up. I want it for them bad.”
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