No fewer than 11 area soccer players earned first-team recognition on their respective all-conference first teams when the picks were recently announced, with four more earning honorable-mention nods.
Whitehall, which advanced to the regional final before falling to Elk Rapids on penalty kicks, boasted five all-West Michigan Conference first-team mentions, fittingly all seniors. Kalup Bentz, Ray Copley, Isaac Love, Nick Rands and Chris Saunders received the first-team honors.
Copley was the Vikings’ top scorer this season, leading the team in goals and assists. He posted 24 and 22 in each respective category during an outstanding senior season. Copley, along with Saunders and Jared Jaekel, tied for team MVP honors.
Saunders received recognition for being an explosive scorer in his own right, piling up 23 goals this season and adding nine assists.
Rands scored 14 times in 2012 and added 21 assists, good for second on the team in that category.
“They were half the team goals and 65% of the assists,” Whitehall coach Bryan Mahan said of the three forwards. “They really were a triple threat. It was hard to stop us when you have to deal with three top-shelf attackers.”
Love was spectacular in net for Whitehall in 2012, recording 14 shutouts in his 26 games in the goal. He saved 80 of the 99 shots on goal surrendered by the Vikings for a Goals Against Average of 0.73.
Mahan added that Love’s career GAA over the last two years is a spectacular 0.62. In 20 career conference games, Love has surrendered only five goals.
Bentz had nine goals and eight assists for Whitehall this season while playing midfield. Jaekel, who received honorable mention recognition, was a leading defenseman and, with Bentz and their teammates, combined to create a nearly impenetrable defense.
“Kalup and Jared dominated the middle of the field, allowing very few people through to the goal,” Mahan said.
Whitehall also boasted five players receiving all-state recognition, led by Saunders, who was named to the all-state first team in Division 3, as well as first team all-area. Copley and Love received second-team honors while Bentz and Rands were named honorable mention all-state. Jaekel was named to the all-area second team and also earned all-region honors.
Mahan said all six of his players who received postseason recognition earned it with outstanding play.
“These six were equally as important with all that they did for our extremely successful year,” Mahan said.
Montague received two all-conference first-team picks after an impressive season in which they placed fourth in the WMC. Luke VanBoxel, who transferred to Montague from Providence Christian, had an outstanding year and led the Wildcats offensively, scoring 21 goals and assisting on 13 others.
“He has a nose for the goal, so I put Luke up there,” Montague coach Moises Barco said, noting that VanBoxel had not played forward at Providence. “It took him a while to get used to the team, but as soon as he got rolling, he was going.”
Riley Lohman also received a first-team nod for his all-around play. He scored twice and had six assists but his main contributions were on defense. Barco credited him with 86 defensive turnarounds during the season, 57 during conference play.
“We call defensive turnarounds when you steal the ball and make a play on it,” Barco said. “He had the most on the team.”
Montague also had one player named honorable mention all-WMC, with Eric Groppi receiving the honors.
“Eric helped Luke out up front,” Barco said of Groppi, who scored 14 goals and had 10 assists in 2012. “Those two took pressure off each other. He was a big reason Luke had a lot of goals and vice versa.”
Reeths-Puffer had a strong season in its own right, placing second in the O-K Black Conference, and were duly rewarded with four players named to the all-conference first team.
The Rockets had top players Brad Macomber, Brandon Gillikin, Austin Blaski and Kyle Wansten named to the all-conference first team in the O-K Black Conference. In addition, Alec Mavis and Cody Loss received honorable mention recognition.