MARQUETTE - Marquette Senior High School sophomore Hunter Viitala made a lasting impression on Great Northern Conference coaches in her first year playing varsity basketball.
Lasting enough that she was named the GNC Player of the Year by the league's coaches at their annual postseason meeting in Escanaba on Monday.
The 5-foot-7 wing had the numbers to back up this honor, averaging 20.3 points, six rebounds and five steals per conference game while shooting 59 percent from the field for the Redettes, who went a perfect 8-0 in the GNC, 17-3 overall in the regular season and won an MHSAA Class A district game at 17-2 Petoskey before bowing out of the tournament.
"If you look at the numbers alone, Hunter definitely earned the player of the year honor, but if you were in the gym you would see she made a lot of plays athletically that positively affect the game," said MSHS coach Ben Smith, who was named GNC Coach of the Year.
"Her steals would get us into our offense and she made a number of 3s. A lot of those plays were game-changing things that would get us off to a fast start.
"And as a sophomore, you might expect her to be up and down, but she scored at least 14 points in every conference game.
"She started pretty well, then expanded her game to get better. In the last (GNC) game, the home game when we clinched against Kingsford, she scored 30 points and made 11 rebounds - it's a result of the hard work she put in."
Viitala wasn't the whole story in Marquette, however, as five other Redettes also earned all-league honors - seniors Liana Storm and Morgan Seibert were named to the first team, sophomores Kirsten Iwanski and Elizabeth Kurin to the second team and senior Lydia Kurin as honorable mention.
Storm was also named to the league's all-defensive team.
Storm, a 5-5 point guard who was a spot starter last year, provided the leadership - and non-scoring numbers - Smith wanted from his floor general. While averaging just 5.8 points per game in the conference, she made seven assists and 4.5 steals per game.
"She was a good player last year, but she blossomed in her leadership role this year," Smith said. "She was a calming influence and a leader by example both on and off the court.
"She did everything you'd ask a point guard to do."
Siebert, a 5-9 wing and post player, made 43 percent of her 3-point shots while averaging more than seven points and six rebounds a game.
"Morgan found ways to do a lot of little things and she did them well," Smith said.
Iwanski is a 5-9 center, Elizabeth Kurin a 5-9 post player and Lydia Kurin a 5-8 post player.
Conference runner-up Kingsford placed two players on the league first team, seniors Carlee Benzie and Andrea Roell, and Benzie was also named GNC Defensive Player of the Year and Roell to the all-defensive team.
The first team was rounded out by Escanaba sophomore Michelle LaFave.
Here are the other honorees, with their year and school:
Second team - Jessica Beaudry, jr., Gladstone; Amanda Pedersen, jr. Menominee; Courtney Qualley, soph., Kingsford.
Honorable mention - Lexi Hongisto, soph., Gladstone; Amber Larson, soph., Kingsford; Codi Jenshak, sr., Escanaba; Karlie Barley, sr., Menominee.
All-defensive - Alexis St. Cyr, soph., Gladstone; Lynsey Collins, jr., Escanaba; Allia Stewart, jr., Menominee.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.