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VanDyk Mortgage West Michigan Conference Player of Year winners announced for fall 2021

CatchMark SportsNet panel determined nominees, readers decided the rest through lively fan polls.

A CatchMark SportsNet panel nominated three student-athletes for each of the 2021 fall high school sports and our readers decided the rest.

The VanDyk Mortgage West Michigan Conference Players of the Year have been determined: It’s Montague’s Tugg Nichols in football, Shelby’s Navea Gauthier in volleyball, Shelby’s Ricardo Bahena in boys soccer, Whitehall’s Karli VanDuinen in girls golf, Whitehall’s Andre Richmond in boys cross country, Hart’s Alyson Enns in girls cross country and North Muskegon’s Troy McManus in boys tennis.

The fan polls were open from 8 a.m. Friday, Nov. 19, to 8 a.m. today (Monday, Nov. 29). Readers were allowed to vote once per hour in each poll.

The six fan polls generated nearly 50,000 total votes – almost half of them in the highly spirited volleyball race.

CatchMark will be inviting the Player of the Year award winners sometime in early January for a presentation and honorary dinner. Each player of the year will receive an individual trophy, courtesy of title sponsor VanDyk Mortgage. A trophy with award winners’ names engraved on it will stay in the CatchMark office.

Here are details about each of the Player of the Year award winners, along with how voting turned out in each sport:

FOOTBALL: Tugg Nichols, Montague, senior WR/DB

Montague senior Tugg Nichols fires up the Wildcats crowd near the end of a 35-22 victory over Reed City in the Division 6 district finals Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in Reed City, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

When it comes to picking the top player for the Wildcats, it was a tough one. Immediately, three players jumped to the forefront: Nichols, Dylan Everett and Hayden McDonald. All three are seniors, who did so much for their team.

Ultimately, Nichols was the pick because not only was he a playmaker and a gamer but the emotional leader of the team. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound receiver, defensive back and return man was versatile and he seemed to rise to the occasion in big moments.

In 11 games listed for him this season, Nichols racked up team-high stats in all three receiving categories: Catches (40), yards (511) and touchdowns (6). Defensively, he had 33 solo tackles and 12 assists to go with two interceptions. On special teams, Nichols led the Wildcats with 10 punt returns for 113 total yards.

Montague finished with an 8-4 overall record and a share of the West Michigan Conference title, plus a fifth-straight Division 6 district championship. The Wildcats’ season ended in a 31-13 regional finals loss to eventual state champ Lansing Catholic.

VOLLEYBALL: Navea Gauthier, Shelby, freshman outside hitter

Shelby freshman Navea Gauthier (2) goes up for a block against Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian during a Division 3 regional volleyball semifinal Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at Western Michigan Christian in Norton Shores, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

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-state, all-region and all-conference 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.

BOYS SOCCER: Ricardo Bahena, Shelby, senior forward

Shelby’s Ricardo Bahena, left, competes during a game in the 2021 season. (Courtesy of Andy Roberts | White Lake Beacon and Oceana Herald-Journal)

Bahena was a force to be reckoned with throughout the season. He 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-state accolades in Division 3, plus he was all-district, all-region and all-conference honorable mention.

GIRLS GOLF: Karli VanDuinen, Whitehall, senior

Whitehall senior Karli VanDuinen putts as her personal gallery watch greenside at the Division 3 state finals Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West in East Lansing, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

VanDuinen does not consider golf her best sport. It’s bowling, for which she has signed to continue competing in the Division I collegiate level at Arkansas State University. But she is a very good golfer, too.

VanDuinen competed in high school golf for three seasons, and she’s been first-team all-state and Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament champion all three years.

As a freshman at Reeths-Puffer, she earned all-state at the Division 2 level. She transferred from R-P to Whitehall as a sophomore, so she had to sit out golf that year.

In her junior and senior seasons at Whitehall, VanDuinen posted top-10 finishes at the Division 3 state finals. She placed seventh with a 77 in the one-day event in 2020 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East. This fall, she climbed to the runner-up spot with a two-day total of 153 (78-75) in the D-3 finals at MSU’s Forest Akers West. She shot a personal-best 66 this season, one stroke shy of the school record.

BOYS CROSS COUNTRY: Andre Richmond, Whitehall, junior

Whitehall’s Andre Richmond competes in a West Michigan Conference jamboree on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, in Whitehall, Mich. (Brent Raeth | CatchMark)

As Whitehall’s top runner, Richmond made significant strides as a competitor in the WMC cross country scene. The junior led the Vikings to a second-place finish in the league and a fourth-place finish in their Division 2 regional.

Richmond was overall leader for the Vikings and a common name found at the top of the leaderboard throughout the conference.

In 14 meets this season, Richmond secured a first-place finish at the Fruitport Invitational, and a dozen top 10-finishes throughout the fall. He broke the 17-minute mark for his personal record of 16:56.9 during the second conference jamboree at Montague High School.

Richmond placed second in the WMC meet, ninth in the Division 2 regional and 111th at the Division 2 state finals.

GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY: Alyson Enns, Hart, sophomore

Hart’s Alyson Enns, foreground, competes during the Division 3 cross country state finals on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. (Photo by Britney Ackley)

Following an extremely successful freshman year, Enns managed to continue her dominance as the top runner in the West Michigan Conference. Enns is a member of a family tree that has represented Hart very well in cross country and track throughout the years.

Enns’ top finishes throughout the season resulted in significant success for the Pirates, ultimately in team state championship in both her freshman and sophomore seasons. She did this despite battling injury during a portion of the season.

In 12 meets this season, she walked away with six first-place finishes. The other half of her placements were all in the top five.

Enns placed first in all three WMC jamborees, second in the Pirates’ Division 3 regional, and second in the Division 3 state finals. She marked her season record during the Shepherd Blue Jay Invite with a time of 17:53.8.

BOYS TENNIS: Troy McManus, North Muskegon, junior No. 1 singles

North Muskegon’s Troy McManus serves during the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Fruitport Middle School in Fruitport, Mich. (Zach Zweigle | CatchMark)

As a three-year standout for North Muskegon, McManus took his turn in the driver’s seat as No. 1 singles player for the Norse this season. Norse coach Cody Liverance describes McManus as consistent, responsible and hard-working. McManus’ qualities encouraged others around him to rise to challenges and be the best they could be.

McManus led his team to a third-place Coastal Conference finish and continuously allowed his teammates more success by fighting off some of the area’s premier tennis players. His selflessness as a person and as a teammate were evident, his coach said.

The junior’s overall record this season was 12-18 against a schedule that forced the Norse to play at the highest level in every competition. McManus defeated four opponents who qualified for the state finals in their respective divisions. Out of his 18 losses, 17 of those were to either state finals qualifiers or to schools that were at least one division larger in size than North Muskegon.

McManus was named first-team all-conference and first-team all-area. He was also the runner-up at the Coastal Conference tournament.

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

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