Photos by Zach Zweigle | CatchMark
WHITEHALL — Whitehall’s boys soccer team began clicking down the stretch of the regular season, as the Vikings reeled off five-straight wins.
They kept it rolling in the first round of districts Wednesday against visiting Fremont, winning 1-0 in Division 2 action.
The Vikings (8-8-1) advance to the district semifinals against seventh-ranked Fruitport (12-1-3) at 6:45 p.m. next Tuesday at Reeths-Puffer’s Eric Marcil Field. In Tuesday’s 5 p.m. district semifinal, ninth-ranked Spring Lake (13-2-3) take on host Reeths-Puffer (11-5-4), which defeated Ludington 2-0 Wednesday in a first-round game.
“We will go in there and play our hearts out and give everything we have on the field,” said Whitehall senior Kyren Bluhm, who notched the assist on Jack McDowell’s game-winning goal early in the second half.
Vikings coach Bryan Mahan knew his team would have to play its best soccer in every postseason game to continue advancing. He squad did just that to kick off the state tournament.
After some minor midseason lineup adjustments and increased confidence, the Vikings seem to have found their sweet spot.
“It’s amazing to see them come from where they were to where they are now,” Mahan said. “Fremont was big, fast, strong and moved the ball well, but we just never gave up.”
In an intense matchup, Whitehall displayed some impenetrable defense against a Fremont team that finished with an 11-5-4 record.
The Packers controlled the majority of possession time in the first half and appeared in command, but the Vikings showed fire in the second half and they proved they were ready to win.
“We finally started attacking the ball in the second half, and it opened up some opportunities for us,” Mahan said.
On Whitehall’s winning goal, Bluhm knocked a header to McDowell, who buried his shot. Bluhm said that Josh Holmberg “put in a great ball” on a free kick, and Bluhm sent it over to McDowell, who was in the right spot.
After taking a 1-0 lead, the Vikings were able to settle in and find their groove.
“We really amped it up in the second half,” McDowell said. “We focused on our three keys: Communication, intensity and passing to feet.”
Said Mahan: “Josh Holmberg was legit back there (on defense), and Andon Palmer made the saves he needed to make.”
Palmer finished with 14 saves to earn the shutout.
The Vikings know they have a tough road ahead, but they’re ready for the challenge.
“In Division 2, there are no easy games,” Mahan said. “If we play our best, we will always have a chance.
“It’s always a toss-up in districts, no matter who you play.”
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