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Eager opener

Duncan MacLean • Oct 30, 2018 at 12:29 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — It is a Grand Haven goal, and repeated reality, to accelerate into the postseason.

The Bucs volleyball team won their final two regular season games and stayed hot in their playoff opener Monday, as they downed Grand Rapids Union in three dominant sets, 25-6, 25-7, 25-6.

The visiting Red Hawks didn’t muster much of a fight, after playing to a last-place finish through a season in the O-K Black Conference. They picked up their points mostly on Grand Haven errors, along with a few clean serves and kills in each set.

Lopsided as the game was, it still was valuable time on the court for a Bucs squad that struggled through their final month of the season.

“We knew what Union’s record was and we have seen who they had played, but we are still happy to get to this point,” said Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka. “We get to practice tomorrow, and that is a reward for a lot of hard work.”

Union’s attack was unconventional at times, with the emphasis on sustaining points rather than in-system kills, particularly in the face of a powerful attack by the Bucs.

“We knew we had to be focused,” Smaka said. “We talked about the fact that we are probably going to see some weird balls off the hands and over the net, so being ready on defense and passing the ball high enough to get it off the net run some offense was important.

“We also were focused on playing to our level and tempo, that is something we haven’t always done this year.”

After ironing out a few kinks in the first set, Grand Haven began mixing up their lineups, giving a myriad of players a chance at varsity playoff game time.

“A lot of girls got to play tonight, which is really good,” Smaka said. “Olivia Gross led us in kills, while is awesome for her to get that opportunity. Ashlyn Paul is up from the JV team and was second in kills so that was cool to see and fun for the girls.”

Gross led the Bucs’ offensive effort with six kills and eight aces. Paul followed with five kills, while Reece Redder flew five aces and Rachel Hillburger converted three.

The win advances Grand Haven to the district semifinals, where they will take on Kenowa Hills following their first-round bye.

The Knights fared similarly to the Red Hawks this year, joining Union in the bottom half of the O-K Black Conference, but Smaka and the Bucs won’t be underestimating anyone.

“At this point, you see top teams lose every year,” Smaka said. “There is no doubt that any team you see is going to give it their all. A team like Kenowa isn’t going to drive all the way out here just to watch us. We are going to make sure we do all of our stuff to prepare the team for the game because we know they are doing the same.

“We have to continue to get better in all phases of the game,” Smaka said. “We have made mistakes in each phase of the game at points this year, so just maintaining that focus on getting in system with good passing, waiting on the attack and making good choices with the ball offensively.

“We will keep working on our serving and controlling first contact and attack the ball. We believe that if we pass the ball well we can still compete with anybody in the state.”

First serve is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Reeths-Puffer High School.

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