Bucs bow out in regional semifinal

Duncan MacLean • Nov 8, 2017 at 12:26 AM

JENISON — Everybody loves a good underdog story, but sometimes Goliath is just too tall.

The Grand Haven volleyball team’s season came to an end Tuesday night at the hands of No. 3-ranked Grand Rapids Christian in the opening round of the regional tournament. The Bucs fell to a completely overpowering effort by the Eagles in three sets, 25-13, 25-14 and 25-16.

“They are ranked No. 3 for a reason. They played great tonight, and we didn’t,” Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka said. “Our kids fought, they played hard. We gave up runs, but I don’t feel like we ever didn’t think we had a chance in this game.”

It was obvious from the start that the Eagles outmatched Grand Haven. Their fast-paced, powerful offense dictated every move of the game and prevented the Bucs from running any semblance of their attack uninhibited.

“We knew their offense was going to be fast, and their speed was definitely a factor,” Smaka said. “We thought we could get our players in position and use our size and ability to change the game, but they were just too much.”

GRCH jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Set 1 before the Bucs could blink. A timeout down 7-2 gave the girls a chance to catch their breath and adjust their game to combat the relentless Eagle attack.

The break proved ineffective, as the Bucs couldn’t shake the 5-point deficit. Spike after spike was blocked or saved by a tremendous GRCH defensive effort. The Bucs trailed 10-5, then 15-6 and 20-9 as the Eagles closed the set.

“Their block was really good tonight,” Smaka said. “They passed really well, too. You have to give them credit for being a really smart team.”

Photo Gallery: Bucs take on Grand Rapids Christian

Set 2 saw more of the same, as Grand Haven’s hitters struggled to generate kills. As the blockers warmed up to the GRCH attack, the Eagles got crafty, tipping balls into holes in the back line.

“We definitely didn’t close the block. The speed of their set to the pins really gave us problems,” Smaka said. “When we did get a good block up, they started tipping a lot. They would send a tip over the top, then you are scrambling to field that.”

Grand Haven hung in the Set 2 longer, forcing a tie at five before GRCH ripped off seven straight points to take control of the game.

“It was one of those things where we couldn’t get any runs against them,” Smaka said. “We would get a point then they would adjust as put it away on us.”

Set 3 saw the Bucs take their first lead of the night. With their backs against the wall, senior hitter Olivia Boeve killed the first point, setting the Grand Haven bench on fire. GRCH forced a tie at three, before the Bucs pulled ahead again 4-3. From there, it was all Eagles. In a blink they led 11-5, triggering a Grand Haven timeout. The Bucs managed to maintain the 6-point deficit at 15-9, and 20-16, before GRCH took charge and claimed their spot in the regional finals.

Ashley Slater led the Bucs offense with nine kills, ahead of Boeve with four. Ashlyn Hall and Samantha Boove paced the Bucs with 11 and eight assists, respectively, while Boeve took charge of the defense with a team-high 10 digs. Lauren Jonker and Avolyn Lepo each had one solo and one assisted block.

The loss ended a resurgent playoff for Grand Haven, who rounded into postseason form nicely after a turbulent regular season.

After graduating eight seniors from last year’s regional runner-up team, this year’s squad featured four seniors ready to prove the Bucs weren’t dead.

“This run means so much, I couldn’t have asked for a better turnout,” Boeve said. “Everybody wasn’t expecting us to do well, so coming out and winning districts then finishing strong as a team and pushing through this tough game, there is nothing else. It is wonderful.”

“I’m very proud of how our seniors fought and played this season,” Smaka said. “Coming into this year, these girls felt a lot of pressure. It wasn’t something we focused on, but they rose to the challenge.”

Boeve, Lauren Jonker, Olivia Sanborn and Kelly Klouw conclude their volleyball careers at Grand Haven well decorated, with multiple district championships, places on the all-time leaderboards and a comeback story for the books.

Boeve leads the group as one of two three-year varsity players. She finished her career fourth all-time at Grand Haven in kills with 11,000 kills and aces with 200. An All-State distinction for her junior season put her on the map, and set her up to lead the 2017 team’s offense.

“She really is one of the best players we have had come through the program,” Smaka said. “She was out of school (Tuesday) sick, and was struggling in the match, but played her heart out.”

Jonker joins Boeve as a three-year varsity player, routinely leading the Bucs in different categories from blocks to kills to aces.

“Lauren has always been that steady player that was just a consistent presence for us all three years she made varsity,” Smaka said. “Her and her family have always been super involved and she has been around the program forever.”

Sanborn didn’t see the share of time her fellow seniors did on the court, but showed her leadership at practice with quiet confidence and tremendous example.

“Sanborn wasn’t the loudest girl on the team, but was a vocal leader in practice who really came into her own this year,” Smaka said. “She pushed all of her teammates and devoted her energy to making the girls around her better.”

Finally, Kelly Klouw showed her grit and dedication to the volleyball program just by showing up this year. After being cut from the team her junior year, the middle hitter returned for her senior year and fought her way into the starting lineup.

“I’m really glad she got that experience,” Smaka said. “It is a testament to her and her attitude that she didn’t quit.

“I’m really happy for those four, and I’m excited for the future and some of the young kids we got and the example the girls ahead of them have set.”

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