The Grand Haven volleyball team played their final regular-season dual at home against O-K Red Conference foe Grandville, falling in straight sets by scores of 27-25, 27-25, 25-23.
The match was competitive throughout with the Bucs hitting 20 points first in each of the three sets, only to fumble away their lead, and momentum, down the stretch. Abundant hitting errors and trouble stopping a persistent Grandville attack made sticking with the Bulldogs a tall task.
“Honestly, our defensive effort was very poor tonight,” said Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka. “Offensively, we played fine. We made some mistakes we shouldn’t have made and missed some spots here and there, but you have to do better defensively.
“I don’t doubt any of these kids’ effort, or how much they want to win, but wanting it isn’t enough. You can’t just want to win and have it happen, you have to go out and execute.”
Grandville was able to exploit different defensive lapses in each set. Set 1 saw the Bulldogs take advantage of weak block support by the Bucs, sneaking tipped balls over the block for easy points.
Grand Haven trailed 23-20 late in the set, but mounted a comeback to force extra points, only to fall on a serving error and a Grandville tip shot.
“They beat us a lot on tips,” Smaka said. “They were coming over on two (hits) and we did not do a good job picking those up. We need to communicate better.”
More blocking issues plagued Set 2, this time at the point of attack, as Grandville traded tips for strong hitting through gaps in the Grand Haven block.
This time, the Bucs held a set point, 24-22 lead, and the Bulldogs forced extra points with a comeback. Tied at 25-25, Grand Haven appeared to take the lead on an Ashley Slater kill, but the point was reversed by the line judge to give Grandville a crucial advantage. The set would end on the next point as Grand Haven sent a spike out of bounds.
“To have two (sets) go to extras and lose them both is really disappointing,” Smaka said. “For some reason right now, we don’t look quite as confident out there late and in extras, as we do at other points in the match.”
The Bucs’ luck continued in the third as they fell behind 9-5 early. A surge of energy, along with a few Grandville errors, would push them back into the game at 18-18 and into the lead at 22-20. But, much like the first two sets, the Bulldogs barked late, taking five of the next seven points for the straight-set victory.
“We have talked about hanging our hat on strong defense, that didn’t happen tonight,” Smaka said. “We had a lot of hitting errors, there is no doubt about that, but we need to play better defensively.”
Slater led the team in kills with 19 and blocks with six, while tying Samantha Boove and Sarah Knoll with one ace each. Baby Hang led the defense with 22 digs, while Boove greased the offense with 35 assists, followed by Ashlyn Hall with 10.
Hang, Hall, Olivia McMullen, Rachel Hilburger, Avery Strohmeyer and Avolyn Lepo were recognized before the match for their time with the program as they embark on their final push to the postseason.
The group will be remembered for their hard work, leadership by example and spirit on the court, as well as their versatile skills on and off the volleyball court.
“We have six phenomenal kids on their way out who I know will leave this program and do great things,” Smaka said. “They have done a really good job of leading by example and working hard every day. We are going to miss all of them.
“It is such a mixture of kids in this class. Two who are going on to play college volleyball in Strohmeyer and Lepo, along with other super-talented kids like Baby, who is going on to play softball and Olivia who may end up rowing. Ashlyn is a three-sport athlete, which is so rare today, and she navigates that so well, and you have some unbelievably intelligent kids like Rachel who want to go into law.
“They are all great kids and we are lucky to have them in the program. I know they are disappointed right now; this is not how they wanted their senior night to go. But, we don’t have time to think about it.”
The Bucs will get right back to work with a pair of O-K Red matches before the week is out, as they take on East Kentwood on Thursday and face a rematch with Grandville on Saturday.