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SL volleyball downs excitable Spartans

Duncan MacLean • Sep 15, 2017 at 12:40 AM

Emotion and hype are often keys to winning close contests, but superior skill and execution can defeat even the most passionate attacks.

The Spring Lake volleyball team took on O-K Blue Conference opponent Sparta at home Thursday night, putting their poise on display against a fired-up Spartan squad, taking a 3-1 victory.

The Lakers opened play with a dominating first set, 25-13, executing their offense well and capitalizing on a bevy of Sparta errors.

The Spartans hung around early, forcing a tie at eight points before Spring Lake had enough. They broke the tie on a Sparta service error and punctuated it with a punishing block by Madeline Zenas. With stellar ball control and court vision, the Lakers pulled away for good.

“We just had better ball control,” Spring Lake head coach Sarah Bulthuis said. “We made them go out of system a little so their offense wasn’t quite in tune. They had some hitting and service errors, which helps, too.”

The beating didn’t sit well with the visitors, who took the court for Set 2 with tremendous energy from the stands, bench and floor, along with a reinvigorated attack. Meanwhile, the Lakers got comfortable, leaving the door open for a comeback.

The two battled to a tie at five points, but Sparta’s energy and newfound offensive energy caused problems for the Lakers, who struggled to field the powerful attack. Spring Lake pulled within one briefly, 9-10, but couldn’t usurp the lead. Sparta would go on to win the set, 25-21.

“Their skill improved in Set 2 and we did make more errors,” Bulthuis said. “I don’t think our serve receive was good enough to run our three options. We were able to get our hitters the ball, but we couldn’t run any middles or right side because the pass was just too far off the net. Sparta caused that.”

With both teams now firing on all cylinders, a must-win third set got underway. Spring Lake continued to display superior court vision, exploiting gaps with booming spikes and nifty drop shots, while the Spartans hung around with unbridled energy, riding point swings in and out of contention.

A tie at 10 sent the Spartan crowd through the roof, forcing a timeout by the Lakers. A brief pep talk let the gym return to normal decibel levels and saw Spring Lake take the next three points. True to form, the Spartans swung back on three straight errors by the Lakers.

Two big blocks by Zenas and Jenna Core shifted momentum back to Spring Lake, who dialed in their service game to power through the end of the set to a 25-20 victory and 2-1 lead.

“I thought in that third set we reduced our service errors, we didn’t have quite as many as we did in Set 2. I think that was a key for us. Making our serves in the last third of the game was a huge benefit.”

Set 4 demonstrated the importance of skill over energy, as the Lakers dismissed the fiery Spartans, 25-20. Spring Lake took control early, jumping out to an 11-4 lead before another emotional run brought the Spartans back into the game. In the end, Spring Lake stayed calm and executed their game plan to close out the match.

“That’s volleyball. I told the girls, ‘When you make a mistake, the other team gets all rallied and fired up, you have five seconds to forget about it and fix it or change it,’’ Bulthuis said. “Recovering from mistakes quickly and making sure you bring high energy when you do something good is key.

“In the third set there was a bit of sloppy play on both sides. They would send a free ball over, then we would send a free ball back. So, for the fourth set we told them that the team to gain control on first contact would probably be the one who has success, and that was the key for us. Again, we were able to control the final third of the game to close it out.”

Sophomore Abbi Perkins led the Lakers with 10 kills on the evening to go with three aces and four blocks. Core followed close behind with nine kills and led the team with seven blocks and 21 digs.

Zenas converted a team-high 36 assists, while Caitie Estep did a little of everything with seven kills, 17 digs and three aces. Taylor Colquitt chipped in with six blocks.

The victory improves the Lakers to 14-4 overall and 2-1 in the O-K Blue. They return to action at Coopersville on Tuesday for another tough conference matchup.

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