Fruitport took on Reeths-Puffer and host Mona Shores in an O-K Black double dual to exciting conclusions, showing off improved skill while wrestling with late-game nerves.
In Game 1, the Trojans displayed major improvements in their movement, communication and skill against Reeths-Puffer, dismissing the rockets in three quick sets, 25-15, 25-17, 25-14.
Game 2 provided the drama, as Fruitport continued to struggle to close out close sets. They defeated Mona Shores in four dramatic sets, 25-17, 28-30, 25-21, 31-29.
“I am super happy with two conference wins, that was our goal coming into the gym,” Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle said. “Especially early on in the season and in close games like that.
“We absolutely were executing our jobs a little better, but we still have to work on the maturity of finishing off games.”
The Trojans opened the day against the Rockets, defeating them in straight sets.
In Set 1, the two teams leapfrogged their way to a tie at 10 points, before the Trojans took control in the latter half of the game. A rally for Reeths-Puffer put them back in the conversation briefly, before the Trojans put them away, 25-15.
Set 2 played out much like the first, with Fruitport lagging one or two points behind the Rockets into double-digits, before mapping them out and attacking to finish off the set, 25-17.
It was all Trojans in Set 3, as they jumped out to a 10-4 lead and never looked back, closing out the Rockets, 25-14.
The measured starts will be a reality all season for Fruitport, who lacks the offensive power to take control early.
“The thing about this team is we are not a heavy hitting team, or super dominant at the net, so most teams we play are going to be neck and neck until 10 or 15 points,” Bayle said. “We need time to figure out what they are doing against us defensively, what we need to adjust and to find the openings and areas that we can attack.”
The cerebral approach worked wonderfully against Reeths-Puffer, as the Trojans assessed their competition and put them away handily.
Rachel Paulsen led the Fruitport attack in Game 1 with 10 kills, followed by Morgan Fialek and Kylie Oberlin with eight each. Kailey Carmean set them up with 35 assists. Hailey Winskas anchored their defensive effort with 10 digs, followed by Chloe Kern with nine.
Carmean and Paulsen also led from the service line, with three aces each.
After defeating the Sailors in their final game at the Battle on the Boardwalk, the Trojans were eager to put them in their place once again, jumping out to a 25-17 win in Set 1.
It looked like smooth sailing for the Trojans as they closed in on a Set 2 victory. They reached set point leading Mona Shores, 24-20, before the Sailors made a run to tie the game at 24, forcing overtime.
The Sailors won the extra point battle, 30-28, bringing a 1-1 tie into the third set.
This time with the set on the line, Fruitport held strong. They took Set 3, 25-21, putting Mona Shores in a do-or-die fourth set.
The elimination game was one for the ages. Ties at 10, 15 and 18 points kept the intensity sky high from first point to last.
For the third time in the match, Fruitport held a 24-21 lead, needing just one of the next four points to close out the victory. Once again, the Sailors denied them the easy win, forcing extra points with a match-point surge.
Neither team could muster the two-point lead required to take the win as the match wore on past 25 points. A substitution error by Mona Shores opened the door for Fruitport, bringing the game to a tie at 26. The window closed quickly as a service error sent the lead and ball back to the Sailors.
A clutch block at the net by Oberlin broke a tie at 28, but the Sailors blocked right back to tie it up at 29. From there, Oberlin smashed a kill to go up one, before grabbing her second block of the game to grab their 31st and final point.
Coach Bayle, though happy with the win, would appreciate a few less heart-attack points.
“It is nice to come out of a game like that with a win,” she said. “But, we have to get better at executing and finishing off games. We showed our immaturity a lot.
“There are just a few rotations we really need to improve, a couple places where we get stuck and can give up five or six points.”
Aside from the late-game antics, the two wins were a step forward for a Trojan squad struggling to find their identity early in the season.
“Not really having any explosive, dynamic kids, our defense is going to carry us through this season,” Bayle said. “I really think that is going to be our M.O. It is a different style of play, but our kids are adjusting to it.
“That being said, Rachel Paulsen played great for us today, leading us in kills. We have been working really hard with her on being explosive and she stepped up and did that today. I’m proud of her effort and execution.”
Paulsen recorded a team-high 15 kill against Mona Shores, followed by Oberlin at 12. Carmean took her customary assist crown with 41, while Trinity Busscher paced the defense with 20 digs. She was followed closely by Paulsen at 18 and Carmean at 15.
Paulsen also led the Trojan charge from the service line with six aces against the Sailors.
The Trojans will return to the court for another O-K Black showdown at Kenowa Hills on Sept. 6.