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Fall Sports Preview: Volleyball

Tribune Staff • Aug 18, 2017 at 4:30 AM

The 2017 season will be a test for all four local volleyball squads as they replace sizable contributions from established standouts that left legacies at their programs.

For Grand Haven, that means replacing eight seniors, all of which played key roles throughout the team’s playing rotation.

Spring Lake will rely on its defensive standouts to set the tone for the team as they hope to compete in the O-K Blue Conference. Fruitport built some experience last season with underclassmen that will now take on bigger roles as juniors, as they hope to build on their district championship squad from 2016.

Western Michigan Christian returns enough size, athleticism and experience to win the Lakes Eight Conference this fall.

It should be an exciting fall season for the Buccaneers, Lakers, Trojans and Warriors.

Let’s take a look at how each team stacks up in 2017

Grand Haven

2016 record: 48-10; finished second in O-K Red; district champions; regional finalist

Head Coach: Aaron Smaka

Key Returners: senior outside hitter Olivia Boeve, sophomore outside hitter Ashley Slater, senior middle blocker Lauren Jonker, junior middle hitter Avolyn Lepo and senior outside hitter Olivia Sanborn.

Key Newcomers: sophomore outside hitter Sarah Knoll, senior outside hitter Kelly Klouw, junior middle hitter Avery Strohmeyer, junior libero Baby Hang, junior setter Ashlyn Hall, freshman setter Sam Boeve, junior middle hitter Olivia McMullen, freshman middle hitter Mackenzie Gross and junior outside hitter Rachel Hilburger.

SEASON OUTLOOK

“The 2017 Bucs are a young team, but also return athletes with great experience and the team still has high expectations,” said Smaka. “This motivated group of players is led by All-State outside hitter Olivia Boeve, third-year varsity middle hitter Lauren Jonker and returning starters Ashley Slater and Avolyn Lepo.

“The Bucs will be a very offensive team and be able to terminate the ball with the additions of Sarah Knoll, Kelly Klouw and Avery Strowmeyer. However, serve-receive and relentless defense will be a must and Olivia Sanborn, Rachel Hilburger and Baby Hang will look to contribute and anchor the team’s defense this season.

“Ashlyn Hall and Samantha Boeve will call the offense this year and be servant setters who put their hitters in the position to succeed. Olivia McMullen and Mackenzie Gross will add more depth to the Bucs’ roster this season and are both a big presence at the net.”

Conference Outlook

“The O-K Red Conference will be tough as always, and we look to put ourselves in position to win every match. Finishing at the top of the O-K Red is a great accomplishment for any team, including the Buccaneers. It is a great volleyball conference and a great challenge that always helps prepare us for the postseason. This team has a great opportunity to be a very dangerous team come November.

“This year’s squad will need to grow each and every day this season in order to rise up and reach our goals. We will need to be better each day when we leave the gym and believe we will play our best volleyball in November.”

SPRING LAKE

Last Year: 12-20; tied for fourth place in O-K Blue

Head Coach: Sarah Bulthuis

Key Returners: senior setter Carley Bench, senior middle blocker Lauren Hellman, junior outside hitter Jenna Core

Key Newcomers: sophomore Abbi Perkins, junior Jencen Sabo, junior Madeline Zenas, junior Julia Clover, junior Lauren Cooper, junior Kamryn Lewkowski.

OUTLOOK

“We have a lot of talent and leadership returning from last season, and we have some high expectations for this group of student athletes,” said Bulthuis. “Winning a conference title is always a goal for the Spring Lake volleyball program.

“We have a very deep team this year. We have 12 players who are very talented and who will continue to make our team better each day. We have six returners who will really need to step up and be leaders on the court for us.”

CONFERENCE OUTLOOK

“Last year was our first year in the O-K Blue. Now that we have a year under our belts, we know the teams and their talents, and we are ready to compete and work hard to earn the conference championship.

“Last year, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Grand Rapids West Catholic and Coopersville all tied for first place. Those three teams are on our radar, and we are excited to compete against those great programs.”

FRUITPORT

2016 Record: 25-19; O-K Black, District champions

Head Coach: Nicole Bayle

Key Returners: junior middle hitter Kylie Oberlin (226 kills, 64 blocks last season), junior middle hitter Jordyn Carlyle (234 kills, 44 blocks last season) and junior setter Kailey Carmean (73 aces, 1,183 assists last season).

Player to Watch: junior libero Trinity Busscher

“Trinity is going to be a great player for us this year,” said Bayle. “Her ball control and movement on the court is excellent. I am looking forward to seeing the impact that she is going to have on our success.”

OUTLOOK

“This year should be a great year for the Trojans,” said Bayle. “Our lineup will have three returning starters. We are a young team, but we have really high expectations for our team. We are hoping to contend for a conference, city, and district championship. Just like most years, we have very high expectations for our season.

“The key for us is to really continue to grow and build on the skills that we need to be successful. We have a young team, only returning three starters, each of which have big shoes to fill. I am excited with the work ethic that my team has displayed this summer and early this season. They really have the determination to be successful, and I can't wait to see what we look like a month down the road.”

WESTERN MICHIGAN CHRISTIAN

2016 Record: 21-20; 4-1 in Lakes Eight

Head Coach: Trent Smillie

Key Returners: Junior outside hitter Anna Sytsema, senior middle hitter Aubrey Goorman, senior middle hitter Madison Heiss.

OUTLOOK

“This is a very tall and athletic team,” Smillie said. “If our ball control and effort matches our athleticism, we will become a very competitive team. I am extremely excited for this team and their potential. We had some injuries hurt our team last season, and we are much deeper as a team this year. If we have any injuries, we have strong players capable of stepping into those spots.

CONFERENCE OUTLOOK

“We would really like to win the Lakes Eight Conference this season,” said Smillie. “We would like to be top four at the GMAA county tournament, as well. We are hosting districts and would love to win districts at home this season and see where that may take us. We have a lot of work to do in order to get there, but we are excited for the challenge.

“Muskegon Catholic Central and us should be the top two teams in our conference this season. Ludington won the conference last year, but they graduated nine seniors and took a big hit, offensively.”

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