The Rams executed the game plan to perfection, making the Bucs’ feared presence at the net a non-factor offensively in Rockford’s three game sweep of Grand Haven at Jenison High School, 25-20, 25-18, 25-16.
Rockford (57-8) advances to Tuesday’s quarterfinal in Caledonia, where it will face Gull Lake. The No. 2-ranked Rams are the lowest- ranked team remaining in the Class A tournament following top-seeded Farmington Mercy’s upset loss to Canton on Thursday.
Cole was limited to just two kills against the Rams, a far cry from the dominating season she’s turned in for the Bucs this fall.
“Our blockers did a great job of putting hands on her ball, but I thought the big key was we served very tough,” Delacher said. “It was extremely important that we served tough tonight, especially against a team with a good middle. It just makes it tough to run (an offense) through that middle.”
Grand Haven coach Katy Walters echoed the praise for the Rams’ serving and stellar defense, but she was frustrated by the number of violations whistled against the Bucs.
“We were so close in those first two games, but I thought there were a lot of tough calls by the officials. They weren’t necessarily wrong, but every time it happened, it’s hard to get any momentum going. It was just uncharacteristic mistakes on our part.”
Grand Haven started the match in promising fashion, as the Bucs received strong play from sophomore Krysteena Davis at the net and grabbed a 10-7 lead.
“Krysteena played out of her mind,” Walters said of her reserve middle hitter’s team-high six kills as well as two blocks.
The game progressed to an 18-18 tie and from there, Rockford took control. The Rams benefited from a Bucs’ double hit violation, a positional overlap call and clutch play from their two key players, seniors Jessica Majerle and Andrea Racsits.
Aside from their power hitting, both are capable of playing an entire rotation on the court without the Rams’ defense suffering. Rockford’s defense was state championship worthy throughout, with several impressive diving digs followed by precision passing to setter Halle Peterson.
Majerle’s kill closed out the Game 1 win and she finished the match with an impressive 14. She also hit for a stellar .542 percentage.
Although she wasn’t a force offensively, Cole still made her mark with her blocking. She had two quick solo blocks to spur the Bucs to a 9-3 advantage early in Game 2. The junior led her team with three blocks.
It would be the last strong stretch of play for Grand Haven, however. Rockford surged back to tie the game at 11-all, then Majerle took over by slamming down four kills — including another game-winner to give her team a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-5 match.
“Rockford’s team was playing on fire,” Walters said with a shrug.
Rockford’s balance also trumped the Bucs’ best effort, as players such as senior outside hitter Murphy Heyer and Peterson made their mark, and the Rams were also able to bring 6-foot-2 middle Jen VanCuren off the bench to create another weapon.
The combination of talented pieces was overwhelmingly evident in Game 3, as Rockford never trailed and completed the sweep with a nine-point victory. Grand Haven was called for an alarmingly high six violations, including a net violation on match point.
Walters commended the strong play of one of her four seniors, Kristen Reenders, who had five kills, 14 digs and two aces. Sophomore setter Jami Hogeboom contributed 20 assists and two aces.
Despite failing to make the program’s first-ever quarterfinals appearance, Walters feels like the Bucs are moving in the right direction. Nine players are expected to return next season from this year’s squad.
“We just got to find a way to develop that competitive fire which comes out when it’s do-or-die,” she said. “We’re working to get over that mountain. But the talent is there, no doubt.
“The roles will be reversed (with Rockford) next year. I hope.”