One error could spark a run for the other team, while one block or kill could turn the tide on a set, a match or even an entire season.
Last year, the Fruitport volleyball squad caught fire in the district round and carried that momentum to a state semifinal appearance. Just one year later, the Trojans found themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum, as a hard-hitting Whitehall squad outdueled the O-K Black Conference champions in straight sets by scores of 25-21, 25-20 and 25-23.
The Vikings will advance to play Orchard View at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the district semifinals, while the Trojans end their season at 32-14.
"That's not the way we wanted things to end, but Whitehall was the better team tonight," said Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle. "We were the better team the last time we played them, but tonight was their night. They executed and took care of the ball and we weren't consistent enough in those areas to win.
"Rayne Thompson was great in the middle for them. She's only a freshman, but she played a lot stronger at the net tonight than she did the first time we played them, so that was a big help for them.
"We were a little out of rhythm and not as sharp as we usually are. At the same time, we've been able to win a lot of matches this season without being super sharp, but we couldn't dig ourselves out of a couple holes we found ourselves in. Our offense never really got in a comfortable pace and our first touch wasn't always great. Those are two things that I think had us on our heels during key stretches of the match."
Fruitport took an early 18-13 lead in the first set Tuesday, but Whitehall responded with some pinpoint shots and thunderous blocks at the net to finish the set on a 12-3 run. The Vikings closed the opening set by a score of 25-21 to bring the Whitehall fans to their feet.
The emotional lift the Vikings enjoyed from the opening set carried over to the second set, as they led from start to finish in a 25-20 win that gave the team an air of confidence and put the Trojans on their heels heading into the third and final set.
The Trojans displayed grit and determination in set 3, jumping out to an early 5-1 lead to show signs of life. Whitehall would chip away at the lead, and eventually break out a scoring run of its own, taking a 22-16 lead late in the set.
After a Fruitport timeout, the Trojans put together an inspired run that saw the team claw back to a 24-23 deficit. The Fruitport bench and the blue-clad fans in attendance could feel the momentum shifting in the match.
With the match point in play, both teams traded a few volleys back and forth. Whitehall eventually used another pinpoint shot that wasn't successfully returned by the Trojans, as the Vikings players spilled onto the floor in jubilation and the sinking reality of defeat hit the Fruitport players.
Senior Kylie Oberlin led the Trojans with 13 kills and 11 digs, while fellow senior Kailey Carmean had a team-high 24 assists. Senior Rachel Paulsen added six kills and 10 digs, while senior Jordyn Carlyle had nine kills, eight digs, three blocks and senior Trinity Busscher recorded a team-high 18 digs.
The loss ends a historic run for eight Fruitport seniors — Busscher, Carmean, Carlyle, Oberlin, Paulsen, Morgan Fialek, Olivia Parling and Haleigh Winskas.
"I told my seniors that this wasn't the way I wanted to say goodbye to them, but they've all done such amazing things on and off the court here at Fruitport," added Bayle. "To measure this season by one performance wouldn't do these kids justice.
"We should be upset, and we should cry and be emotional, because this means a lot to us. We've all put in a lot of time, energy and sweat throughout these last four years and some of these kids are done with their volleyball careers after the high school level."
This particular group collected more than 60 wins in their last two seasons, including a state semifinal appearance, an O-K Black Conference title and a GMAA City Championship.
"That group of kids has been through a ton of adversity," added Bayle. "They've made a huge impact on our volleyball program and will go down as a historic team after making it all the way to the semifinals last year.
"As their coach, I'll always remember their mental toughness and character. They've been a pleasure to coach and I'm going to miss them next year."