Our first edition will shine a spotlight on the newest team to enter the spring sports season — the Grand Haven boys volleyball squad
GRAND RAPIDS — Leaving port from the beach courts on the coast of Lake Michigan, the newly formed Grand Haven boys volleyball team wasted no time ransacking nearby challengers in the first year of the sport in West Michigan.
The Bucs are 6-0 in league play thus far and didn't drop a single set to their competition from Grand Rapids Christian, Allendale and Kalamazoo Christian on Thursday night, setting a course for a dominating title run in the league's inaugural season.
The forecast for the Grand Haven boys volleyball team's maiden voyage was fair, with an all-star coaching staff leading a group of well-rounded athletes pulled from the pool and the gridiron. But, even the best captains need a cooperative crew, something not easily found with young men vying for dominance and playing time in a newly found arena.
In just over a fortnight, the members of Grand Haven's boys volleyball team went from a collection of athletes to a well-oiled rotation. Regardless of prior experience, coaching ability or individual prowess, going from square one to a 2.18 serve-receive mark and 90 percent serving accuracy is no easy task.
The secret? Start with good kids, and make sure they want it.
"We are progressing much faster than I expected," Grand Haven head coach Jim Vantol said. "We are taking things that should take a month to learn and packing it into a week. We are trying to squeeze two years of skills into this first year, and they are doing great.
"They are all about, ‘What can we learn next?' It has been great and they are really motivated, really driven."
Motivation was easy to come by for the team of diverse athletes. A common thread throughout all Grand Haven athletic programs serves as the focal point — winning.
"Once we got started, we figured out what we wanted to do and we established some goals," senior water polo standout Matt Fahey said. "At the top of the list was we wanted to win. We came from different sports backgrounds, but we are all still Grand Haven, we are one team already fighting for the same reasons.
"We are just aggressive. We want to win and want to work together as a team. There is a lot of enthusiasm at practice, which makes the work all the more fun."
Pirates, and subsequently Buccaneers, are known to be greedy. With athletes accustomed to fierce competition for a spot on Class A varsity teams, it wouldn't be surprising to hear things got contentious as playing rotations formed. Once again, this special team defied expectations as a level playing field fostered a nurturing environment focused on group growth over individual dominance.
"Because we were all new, there wasn't anyone who felt like they were the top dog," said senior Tucker Beland, a former Buccaneer basketball player. "Everyone is starting from the same spot, so you really can't judge people. We are all just excited to play and to learn."
That cooperation has bred a unique atmosphere in just two short weeks, creating unlikely relationships on the eve of summer vacation and the beckoning beach season.
"It is definitely cool to spend some time with different guys you probably wouldn't normally see or hang out with, especially in your senior year," Beland said. "Guys that I see around the school in the halls but have never really talked to."
"The past four years, I have just been doing swimming and water polo, so those are the only people I really have been exposed to," Fahey added. "It is refreshing to get to know Tucker and all the other kids that I haven't interacted with a whole lot. It brings you together."
The Bucs immediate success and enthusiasm could prove invaluable to the growth of the sport in West Michigan. As word spreads across the state of the newfound league, schools are clamoring to get in on the new athletic opportunity.
With just one league night remaining, no new teams will be allowed to vie for the conference title, but the fun doesn't appear to stop after the conference championship on May 3. Grand Haven is set to host two tournaments open to interested teams, which could include squads from West Ottawa and Paw Paw joining the fray.
The expanded interest proves Grand Rapids Christian head coach and spearhead of the league Brad Poel was onto something last fall and illustrates the power of a strong population of men's volleyball players in the area.
"When I went to our athletic director, Jason Heerema, in the fall, he was immediately on board. He was a player himself and coached volleyball for many years," Poel said. "He has been a big asset in our development. Having an AD that is not only supportive but a driving force in recruiting teams and getting this off the ground has been huge.
"I didn't know what the level of interest would be. I do know that volleyball is a really popular boys intramural sport, so there may be some pent-up interest out there. We are thrilled with the participation in this first season with things coming together so late.
"We started putting things together in the fall and had our team in February, but it wasn't until word started to spread and things started to hit the press that we really took off.
"Next year, we hope to start much earlier. We will meet as coaches and athletic directors to try and get a plan together early on, set some deadlines for signups so we can figure out a schedule and give teams some specifics to plan on. Mostly just make it less of a scramble."
With Grand Haven on the verge of their first boys volleyball conference title, representatives from the Lakeshore certainly would label this inaugural season as a success. The demand for a larger league reaching as far as Paw Paw proves that notion.
Welcome to the Lakeshore, boys volleyball.