The rain didn’t stop the parade, though. A full slate of activities Thursday night, including a 5K run, youth camps and an adult tournament, still made their debut at the Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium, along with freshmen and junior varsity competition Friday morning.
Just as varsity games were about to get underway, the sky opened, forcing the meat of the tournament to move into the gym at Grand Haven High School. There, the Bucs captured their sixth-straight tournament title with a 3-0 finish with wins over Mona Shores (25-17, 25-13), Fruitport (19-25, 25-23, 15-4) and Spring Lake (25-14, 25-6).
“Given the level of the teams and how good everyone is this year, it feels really good,” said Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka. “Spring Lake and Fruitport have as good of teams as ever this year.
“We’ve always talked about west Michigan being a hotbed for volleyball. Look at the success Fruitport has had going all the way back to Dan Potts and look at Sarah Builthuis and her success now being carried on by her daughter. The consistency within these programs and having coaches that care about their schools showed on the court today.”
The rain did dampen the spirit of the varsity competition, but the future is clear and bright for the tournament after its trial run at the newly constructed stadium.
“We had a great day and a half,” Smaka said. “We are glad to have a beautiful boardwalk and support from the community. We made the best of what we could. We had 100 runners in the run Thursday and 80 kids in the youth camps and had a great morning this morning. It is a beautiful stadium down there.”
The one-of-a-kind tournament is a taxing logistical exercise even on the perfect weekend. The extra complications of a split venue made the 2018 running a special success.
“Our committee, along with awesome volunteer support made this happen. This was probably the best this event has run so far,” Smaka said. “When we moved inside, the committee along with our parent group packed up the whole stadium right away. We had the gym set up early. It takes so many people coming together to make this happen.”
Once moved inside, the varsity tournament took on a different feel than usual, as novel variables like sun, wind and water hazards gave way to straightforward volleyball.
“I told the girls when we left the boardwalk, ‘All right, guys. We’re moving inside, so now it’s just volleyball. No excuses anymore,” Smaka said.
“We probably would have prepared a little differently if we knew it was going to be an indoor quad,” said Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle. “It was disappointing we didn’t get to play outside, but with an event like this, you have to make a call and Aaron did a fine job with that.
“There are so many different factors that impact you outside that aren’t usual. It was more serious once we got inside.”
Comfortable in their home gym, the Bucs rattled through a strong field of local competition. Round 1 saw an unceremonious two-set dismissal of Mona Shores before 2017 Class B semifinalist Fruitport gave Grand Haven a run for their money, stealing Set 1 25-19 and pushing Set 2 to a tie at 23-23 before the Bucs finished to force a third set.
In the tiebreaker, it was all Grand Haven. Fruitport mustered just five points.
In the final, Grand Haven’s dominant play continued, as they dismissed Spring Lake in straight sets.
“Sometimes you get on a roll and things just go your way,” Smaka said. “We definitely played well, but I think Spring Lake didn’t. They are a much better team than how they played in that game.
“Against Fruitport, we battled some issues we have been all season. We got careless with the ball and made mistakes.”
The Trojans managed to drop both local games, as they fell to rival Spring Lake in three sets in their first game of the day.
“This was a learning experience for us for the season. Things change, players change, injuries happen, and we have to be able to deal with that,” Bayle said. “We played average against two good teams and were right there, but couldn’t close the door and put the ball away. We just weren’t consistent enough.”
The Lakers used the momentum gained from their rivalry win to roll past Mona Shores in the second round, setting up a date with the hosts with the tournament title on the line.
In their final game, Spring Lake was outmatched. Grand Haven’s power hitting and defense washed out the Lakers, who struggled to bring their dominant play from the first two games into the finals.
The Bucs took a two-set win to remain the lone champion of the event.
“The Fruitport match was our best match of the day,” Spring Lake head coach Cassidy Hazekamp said. “We kept them out of system for the most part, and we stayed aggressive. We served them tough, which kept their big hitters out of it for the most part, and they weren't able to pass as well as they normally do. That's always our goal. We want to keep teams out of their system, so we can run our offense effectively.
“Against Grand Haven, they just kept us out of system for most of the match. They didn't even really see our offense, because they kept us out of it the whole time. They are a tough serving team and we just couldn't get the ball controlled on our end in order for us to do what we needed to do to run our offense successfully.”
Sarah Knoll led the champs for the afternoon, finishing with 25 kills, while Reilly Sweibert, Samantha Boove and Ashlyn Slater led with three aces each. Boove led with 68 assists, while Baby Hang and Hall each collected 10 digs.
For Fruitport, Trinity Busscher led from the service line with five aces and on defense with 42 digs. Kylie Oberlin led the offense with 19 kills and 62 assists. Jordyn Carlyle recorded three blocks.
For Spring Lake, Jenna Core led with 18 kills and 19 digs. Taylor Colquitt paced the team with seven blocks; Madeline Zenas racked up 52 assists; and Jencen Sabo, Zenas, Taylor Estep and Core each had two aces.
All three teams, along with Western Michigan Christian will be back in action at Grand Haven on Monday as they take on the Grand Haven Invitational.