The Buccaneers were hosting their annual Bucs Pride Night to honor all those in the local community effected by or currently battling cancer. With their purple jerseys on their backs and the thoughts of family members in their hearts, the young Grand Haven squad put on a show, drubbing visiting Caledonia in three sets for a 3-0 win over the Fighting Scots.
The Buccaneers took Set 1 with a 25-19 win, and dominated Set 2 to the tune of a 25-16 win.
In Set 3, the Buccaneers were tested by Caledonia, falling behind by as many as six points late in the match. With the team on the ropes and facing set point, Grand Haven rallied for a 28-26 win, using the emotional night and energy from the crowd to help fuel them to a big conference win.
“It was really nice to see us respond well under pressure and come back to win that third set like we did,” said Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka. “The first two sets were probably some of the best volleyball that we’ve played all year. We were disciplined, focused and passed the ball well. Hopefully that’s something that we can carry with us moving forward.
“We know that when we pass well, we have the offensive weapons to be a dangerous team. We believe we can compete with anybody, but we just need to serve and pass more consistently and better overall.”
Sophomore outside hitter Ashley Slater finished with 15 kills to power the Bucs attack, while Olivia Boeve added 11 kills and 19 digs.
“Ashley hasn’t even turned 15 yet, and she’s already a key player for us,” added Smaka. “She’s just really grown as a player, and we’re excited to see where she goes from here.”
Ashlyn Hall led the Bucs (21-10) in assists with 37, while Baby Hang added 23 digs.
“Lauren Jonker had some big kills for us, Baby was great on defense and Ashlyn Hall did a nice job of distributing the ball for us. We made some adjustments with our lineup and I think it paid off tonight.”
Smaka was glad his young team had to face some adversity Thursday, but was even happier with how the team responded to it.
“It’s nice to get pushed like that,” he said. “We needed to respond in a tight spot, and the girls did that. That shows that the moment isn’t too big for them. They were able to collect themselves, get back on track and refocus.”
Part of that refocusing effort was after a timeout midway through the third set, in which Smaka challenged his team to communicate better and forget about the mistakes.
“We worked really hard this week at practice at being more disciplined in our movement, and I didn’t see that midway through that third set, so I called a timeout,” he continued. “We talked about forgetting what was going on in that set and getting back to what we had been working on all week, which was being disciplined in our movements and being focused.
“It’s never a question of effort with this group. This team works unbelievably hard, and they are completely selfless. They support each other from start to finish and cheer each other on, and that’s what we needed.
“It’s just a matter of trusting each other out there, and I think they did that tonight.”
According to Slater, the timeout allowed the team to finds its energy again.
“I think the whole team had a lot of good energy in those first two sets,” she said after the match. “In the third set, our energy level went down, and we started to get in our own heads a little bit. We just got together as a group and said that we needed to talk more out there and work together as a team, and that’s what we did.
“This is a big confidence boost for us, and we know we are capable of playing even better than this.”
The Bucs Pride event was a personal one for Slater and her family, as she was playing for her grandfather who passed away last week from the disease.
“My grandpa passed away last week from cancer, so this event was a big deal for me and my family. I was definitely playing for him tonight, and this was a special night to remember him.”
Grand Haven travels to West Ottawa on Saturday, before hosting Rockford next Thursday for Staff Appreciation Night at 7 p.m.
Junior varsity: The Grand Haven junior varsity team defeated Caledonia, 25-14, 16-25 and 16-14.
Ashlyn Pahl led the Bucs with seven kills, while Jasmine Gard added four and Olivia Dault added three aces, nine points and five digs.