Spring Lake volleyball’s season came to an end Thursday night at the hands of top-ranked Grand Rapids Christian in the Division 2 regional finals, as the Eagles swept the contest by scores of 25-11, 25-22, 25-18.
The Lakers put up the best fight of any team so far in the playoffs. The Eagles have given up 20 points just twice and held teams to less than 15 points in nine of their 12 postseason sets.
The win makes it back-to-back regional titles for Grand Rapids Christian, although their 2017 title came in the Division 1 state tournament.
“I’m so proud of this group,” said Spring Lake head coach Cassidy Hazekamp. “Grand Rapids Christian is a great team. My girls are so classy and they played great tonight. They executed our gameplan. We battled tonight.”
The loss marks the end of the line for eight seniors. Jenna Core, Lauren Cooper, Laney Peasley, Taylor Colquitt, Julia Clover, Madeline Zenas, Jencen Sabo and Kamryn Lewkowski formed a special bond on the court for Spring Lake and will leave a lasting impact on the program.
“These seniors are a special group. The class is super tight, and you can see that chemistry on the court,” Hazekamp said. “They play a huge role in being leaders on the court, on the bench and in practice.
“They mean a lot of the program as a whole. They have put so much time into it, doing elementary and middle school volleyball and going to their games to support them. We have a great volleyball family in Spring Lake and that is thanks to this senior class.”
“We are just really close,” Zenas said of her classmates. “We play a lot of different sports together and have a great connection. We always give effort, we are always determined and disciplined and that helps a lot in putting a team together.”
That renowned leadership of the seniors was tested by the Eagles on Thursday, as Set 1 got off to an ugly start. After falling behind 10-3, things got out of hand quickly, as Christian levied a fast tempo and devastating kills to pull away early.
Spring Lake hit the court for Set 2 with renewed energy, employing strategic changes laid out during the break with impressive precision.
“We adjusted our block, moving them out a bit so that they were more ready for that outside attack, and we moved our defense up,” Hazekamp said. “They weren’t hitting to deep corners, they hit down in front so we moved our backs up to try and get some more touches.
“We talked about quick blocking and making sure we were getting our hands up and penetrating over the net. Then, a lot of it was little things like making sure we were in system more, passing better, keeping Madeline in front of the 10-foot line.”
The changes worked wonders, as the Lakers pushed Christian to their most competitive set this postseason.
Spring Lake took a 2-0 lead off the bat, and kept their nose ahead for the majority game, going point-for-point with the Eagles. As blocks started to pile up, kills started to flow for the Lakers, who were able to keep Christian guessing with alternating crafty tip plays and raw power at the net.
As the set wore on, the atmosphere changed in the gym and on the floor. The Set 1 smiles on the Christian players gave way to grimaces, as they dug in for their first true test of the playoffs.
“The way the girls were able to make those changes in a short amount of time really shows how talented this team is,” Hazekamp said. “We talked about some changes and they stepped onto the floor and they competed. I’m so proud of the way they fought back.”
Christian took their first lead a 15-14, but the Lakers continued to fight, forcing a tie at 16-16 before calling timeout down 18-17.
A net violation on Spring Lake put them in a two-point hole, but they were able to fight back to 21-20 thanks to an Eagle error and Core kill. Christian then strung together a run to take a 24-21 lead.
In the face of a potential 2-0 deficit, sophomore Alicia Mumby rose to the challenge to pick up a kill, followed by a boomer by Core to get back in the conversation. Christian then took care of business, putting Spring Lake’s season on the line.
“I think our effort was really important in that set,” Zenas said. “We fixed our block. We were slow on that in the first set and they were going outside a lot, like every time. That was the biggest thing.
“We tried to adjust our offense to theirs. I had to set faster, we tried to work our approaches faster and read every block. We knew how they hit, we just had to adjust our game, and it worked.”
Despite the 2-0 hole, Spring Lake carried their momentum into the third set, jumping out to a 5-2 lead on pure heart, coming up with some incredible digs to keep points alive.
Christian would tie the game at 6-6, and the Lakers held at 8-8 and 9-9 before sacrificing the lead for good. Spring Lake called timeouts down 12-9 and 18-13, but couldn’t stop the freight train as the Eagles set their sights on back-to-back quarterfinals appearances.
Core led the offense with 10 kills, followed by Perkins with eight. The team totaled 11 blocks with Perkins in front at five and Mumby close behind with three. Clover led the defense with nine digs, while Core had seven.
Christian will take on Hamilton in the quarterfinals on Nov. 13, while the Lakers are tasked with reflecting on their longest postseason run in recent memory.
“Overall, I’m so proud of this group, there has been so much improvement since August. Making it this far with this team, with these seniors and the younger kids, they are so excited,” Hazekamp said. “We had a lot of our middle school teams here tonight supporting them. They are all so excited to come to high school and play volleyball and that is thanks to this team. It speaks measures about these kids and how much they care about the program.
“They don’t do anything for personal recognition, they do it for the program, they do it for that Spring Lake on the back of their jerseys.
“It was a team effort all the way, and I’m very proud.”