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Grand Haven volleyball starts hot, finishes cold against No. 1 Rockford

Duncan MacLean • Sep 29, 2017 at 12:48 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — Often times, the best performances in sport come when a team has nothing to lose. Combine that with Homecoming-week energy on the volleyball court, and rivalry night can get interesting.

The Grand Haven volleyball team played host to the top-team in the land Thursday night as No. 1-ranked Rockford came to town for an O-K Red Conference clash.

The Bucs refused to be intimidated, jumping out to a Set 1 victory, before the Rams wrestled back three straight wins to record the gentleman’s sweep, 3-1, 22-25, 25-20, 25-22, and 25-19.

“We were pretty happy with how we played tonight,” Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka said. “Every time you play against Rockford, you know it is going to be a well-coached team and they will be ready. We talked about coming out and rising to the challenge and we came out with an attack mentality. They took control as the match went on, but I was proud of us for coming out and taking that first set.”

Grand Haven’s nothing-to-lose mentality caught Rockford by surprise, as they hit the court ready to play from the drop. Crisp passing and offensive execution put the Rams on their heels early, allowing Grand Haven to pull ahead.

“I think we made less mistakes in that first set,” Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka said. “We didn’t miss many serves, we hit very effectively and they were a little more out of sorts. They came out and didn’t pass as well as they normally do right away, maybe that was us, maybe it was them.”

Rockford caught up to the speed of play in Set 2, settling their offense and absorbing the ferocious attack by Grand Haven.

“Once their passing improved and got back to their standard, our job got a little tougher,” Smaka said. “They are a great defensive team and they are fast, they run a very quick offense. They push the ball up and you have to be ready for it. We try to play the same style, but aren’t quite where they are, yet. We are on our way.”

In Set 3, the Rams dialed it up a notch, showing off their tremendous court speed and playmaking ability. The Bucs held strong, never trailing by more than five points, even closing the lead to one through the latter half of the set.

In a must-win Set 4, Grand Havens’ youth began to show, as unforced errors and less-than-perfect passing opened the door for Rockford, who were happy to capitalize on the errors.

“We didn’t pass well in the end there,” Smaka said. “We were scrambling a little more, and when you scramble against Rockford and give them balls that aren’t attack balls, it is coming back at you quick.”

After jumping out to 4-1 lead to start the set, Grand Haven led Rockford back in for a tie at four points. The game went back-and-forth up to a tie at nine, before the Rams took over for good. Trailing 16-20, the Bucs called timeout following a botched serve-receive to try and gather their thoughts.

After the timeout, a booming kill for Grand Haven threatened to shift momentum, but a resolute Rockford squad held strong, winning five of the next seven points to take the match victory.

“We still have to play better on the defensive end so that when good teams like Rockford are playing better, we can still run what we want to run,” Smaka said. “We know we aren’t quite where they are at, but we are moving in the right direction. It was a good measuring stick for us tonight, and thought we did a decent job.”

Senior outside hitter Olivia Boeve led the Grand Haven offense with 16 kills on the evening, ahead of Ashley Slater with 11. Ashlyn Hall served as lead facilitator with 39 assists.

Baby Hang anchored the Bucs’ defense with 22 digs, ahead of Boeve with 14. Avolyn Lepo, in her first conference game back from ACL surgery, led the team at the net with three blocks.

“Lepo is a game-changer for us, it is awesome to have her back on the court,” Smaka said. “She was a starter last year and a huge part of our rotation, she is absolutely an anchor presence to have back in the game.

“Baby Hang was all over the place tonight, she was going after everything. She did a great job defending the outside, found a lot of balls and played really well from a positional standpoint. Boeve and Slater are always huge, they played great tonight, as well.”

The Bucs will enjoy some time off before returning to O-K Red play against East Kentwood at home on Oct. 5

Junior varsity: The Grand Haven junior varsity team defeated Rockford on Thursday, 2-0, 25-19, 25-21. Carley Wagasky and Jasmine Gard led the offense with five kills each, followed by Ashlyn Pahl and Ava Bouwman with 3 each. Jasmine Gard led at the service line with nine points, while Olivia Dault led with 17 digs. Bri Anderson and Olivia Lovett shared a team-high 20 assists.

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