“It’s nice we’ve got everyone back at this point of the season, and we’re focused now on coming together as a team and going forward,” Walters said. “I think a lot about where we might have been if everyone had been healthy, but the important thing is now we have our full lineup back and we’ll have a better shot at Rockford as we get healthier.”
Unfortunately, all the absences has created a lack of cohesion on the Bucs squad, a trait needed to defeat a team like the visiting Rams, who are ranked No. 2 in Class A.
The Rams showed why they’re ranked so highly, completing an undefeated record in the O-K Red Conference with a three-game sweep of the Bucs, 25-19, 25-13, 25-21, at Grand Haven Fieldhouse. The Rams’ victory spoiled Senior Night at Grand Haven, as the team honored its four seniors, Chloe Dault, Kristen Reenders, Megan Newhouse and Alex Law.
Grand Haven falls to 30-15 overall and 4-3 in the O-K Red, which is good for fourth entering next weekend’s conference tournament. The Rams are the only unbeaten team in league play at 7-0.
“We’ve played very well on Thursday nights,” said Rockford coach Kelly Delacher, reflecting on the typical night of O-K Red matches. “Obviously, it’s not an easy league to go undefeated in, and I’m really proud with how we played all season on Thursdays.”
Walters told her team entering the match that defense and passing would be keys to victory, but Rockford’s wealth of offensive weapons kept the Bucs scrambling throughout.
“To compete with a team like Rockford you have to pass the ball well and we didn’t do that good enough tonight,” Walters said.
Rockford established its talented outside hitter, Jessica Majerle, right from the outset, as the 6-footer tallied seven kills in the first game. The Rams were in control throughout most of the match, as they never trailed until the third game.
“She’s definitely good,” Walters said of Majerle. “One of the best hitters we’ve faced this season.”
Majerle finished the match with 16 kills, but the Rams’ balanced offense saw two other players record eight kills apiece, Avery Punches and Andrea Kacsits. That balance helped offset the effectiveness of Bucs’ junior middle hitter Abby Cole, who had eight kills and two blocks.
“She still had her kills and proved she’s a special player,” Delacher said. “But we were able to block her a couple times and played good enough defense.
“Our serving was also excellent, which forced a lot of bad passes. That’s another way to neutralize a good middle hitter like Abby.”
Grand Haven’s first lead came at 8-7 in Game 3, on a tip by Newhouse. The 5-foot-9 outside hitter elevated her play in the final game, as she recorded three kills and teamed with Krysteena Davis on a successful double block.
The Bucs were also more competitive in the do-or-die third game due, in part, to switching Reenders from defensive specialist to outside hitter.
“Kristen brings a lot of energy and we needed her offense in that third game,” Reenders said. “But she’s so good in both areas. We need her defensively, too. It’s nice Chloe’s back, but she’s just coming back from a concussion and isn’t back 100 percent yet.”
Despite facing their first stretch of adversity, the Rams’ resiliency shined through, as they scored five of the game’s next six points to re-gain control.
The Bucs were dealt a tough break late in the game. Reenders made a diving dig that nearly touched the floor, but was returned back for an apparent tying point at 21-21. But an inadvertent whistle by the referee on the close dig forced a replay of the point, and Majerle turned it into a kill and a 22-20 Rams’ lead.
Majerle closed out the victory with a gorgeous ace, which struck the back line for a 25-21 final.
Newhouse had six kills for the Bucs, while Reenders had 12 digs and a team-best two aces. Setter Jami Hogeboom totaled 16 assists.
Junior Varsity: Grand Haven (31-9, 6-1 O-K Red) defeated Rockford on Thursday, 25-18, 25-20. Amy Kober and Bailey TeBeau led the Bucs with seven kills apiece, while Kober and Paige VanOordt had seven blocks each. Jenny VanTol led with nine digs, Emily Sexton totaled a team-high 15 assists and Rachel Sedgewick and Hailey Bethune had five service points each.
Freshmen: Grand Haven lost to Rockford, 25-19, 25-15. Katja Maestrom had five kills and eight digs for the Bucs, while Bronte Michura had four kills and five digs. Meagan Burke led the team with 14 digs, while Sophie Stoepker had 15 assists, seven digs and a pair of aces.