The Spring Lake and Fruitport volleyball squads met for a non-conference tri-meet with Whitehall on Thursday at Spring Lake High School in what served as a district preview for all three teams.
Spring Lake came out on top at the event, defeating Whitehall (25-13, 25-18) and Fruitport (25-21, 11-25, 15-13).
The Trojans defeated Whitehall (25-13, 25-15) to finish 1-1.
The headlining event of the night was the preview of the first round district matchup between the Lakers and Trojans, however.
After both teams recorded wins over Whitehall, the two crosstown rivals met for the championship match of the tri-meet.
Fruitport jumped out to a 13-6 lead over Spring Lake to open Game 1, but the Lakers responded with a run of their own to cut the lead to 14-10 and carried that momentum into a 21-18 lead.
Spring Lake would close out the opening game by a score of 25-21.
Fruitport was undeterred, however, and quickly took command in Game 2 with a 7-2 lead. This time, the Trojans wouldn’t falter, as they extended their lead to 16-7, before closing out a 25-11 win to force a third game.
In Game 3, Fruitport carried the previous momentum over and established a 7-3 lead on the Lakers.
Just when it seemed like the Trojans had all the answers, the Lakers flipped the script once again, and rallied to even the score at 9-9 midway through the game. The Lakers used crisp passing and ball control to close out the pulse-pounded action down the stretch, with a play at the net giving Spring Lake the final kill they would need to record a 15-13 win.
“It was an exciting match with Fruitport. In all three games, we had to come back and claw our way back into it,” said Spring Lake head coach Sarah Bulthuis. “At the time, it was a little irritating that we weren’t able to start better, but at the same time, it’s kind of pleasing that we were able to make up that kind of deficit against a good team. We didn’t panic; we just calmed ourselves down and got back to playing with better ball control.
“At the same time, Fruitport did a nice job with their tough serving to get us out of system, and they forced us to play out of position a few times and we weren’t able to get the ball to our setter where we wanted it.”
In a game filled with so many shifts in momentum, adjustments made during timeouts were critical to the teams’ success. Coach Bulthuis’ message to her players was simple, however.
“I just told them that we needed to have better ball control,” she said. “We needed to have three option passes to our setter, and we had to run our offense. We are a good offensive team, but we can’t be predictable. When you pass well, no one knows where the ball is going to go. Our setter does a nice job of disguising where the ball is going to go, but we have to get the ball to her in order for that to happen.”
Spring Lake’s setter, junior Madeline Zenas, is the tallest girl on the team, which is usually a role for a middle blocker or outstanding outside hitter. Coach Bulthuis views the role change as a positive.
“In the grand scheme of things, that’s a good asset to have, because she can be offensive at the same time, too,” she said. “She can dump it, hit or place the ball, but she’s a good blocker, too. She just adds another dimension to our attack when teams have to worry about what she’s going to do, because she’s able to do a lot of different things.”
Jenna Core led the Lakers with 14 kills, four blocks and five digs, while Lauren Hellman added 11 kills, 11 digs, four blocks, one ace and five points and Zenas added 46 assists, one ace, 11 points, one block and 11 digs.
Also adding key contributions for the Lakers were: Caitlin Estep with four aces, 13 points and 11 digs, Carley Bench with 22 digs, Jencen Sabo with nine kills, 10 digs, four aces, nine points, and four blocks and Abbi Perkins with seven blocks, six kills, two aces and nine points.
“Everyone really chipped in and at different times and it was different people stepping up each time, so that was a good team effort out there,” Bulthuis added.
The Lakers will play five more regular season matches before they prepare for their postseason date with Fruitport. In the meantime, there’s still plenty to work on in Coach Bulthuis’ eyes.
“We’ll play Fruitport in the opener at the end of the month, so this was a good test before that happens,” she said. “We still need to work on our ball control and our serve-receive needs to get better and more consistent. We can’t dig ourselves a hole like we did tonight.”
FRUITPORT FOCUS GROUP
For Fruitport, the season-long theme of inconsistent play reared its head again Thursday, with the Trojans playing dominant volleyball for stretches, but not long enough to put teams away.
“That’s something we’ve struggled with all year long. We have to continue to stay focused and stay on track,” said Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle. “Two out of three matches is tough, and I really harped on the girls afterward about being able to finish close matches, because it’s important.
“Spring Lake finished well in Game 3, but I really felt like we lost Game 1. We had an opportunity to finish that game out when we were up by seven or eight points, and we didn’t finish. Until we start to learn how to capitalize on opportunities where we are in control, we’re going to struggle to win close matches.”
After taking sizable leads in each of their matches against Spring Lake, the Trojans allowed the tide to turn in favor of the home team in a rivalry matchup.
“That’s where we show our immaturity at times,” added Bayle. “We gave up five or six points on a rotation when we were up by seven or eight, and that’s a huge shift in momentum. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t think momentum has a huge impact on a winning a match, you’re crazy. It’s a big part of athletics and being successful.”
Jordyn Carlisle recorded 20 kills, one ace and 11 digs to lead the Trojans, while Kylie Oberlin added 16 kills; four digs and three blocks and Kailey Carmean added 21 assists, five digs and one block.
Also adding key contributions for the Trojans were: Rachel Paulsen with eight kills, three aces, 19 digs and two blocks and Haleigh Winskas with six kills and three digs.
“I thought Jordyn Carlisle played great today,” added Bayle. “We put a lot of pressure on her, since we had a kid get hurt against Reeths-Puffer on Tuesday, and we had to shuffle our lineup around a little bit. She stepped up big time, and I was happy to see that and happy to see her be a leader out there.
“Haleigh Winskas played in a new position today, and played good defense and kept the ball in play. She dealt with that switch pretty well, and contributed really well. I thought my setter, Kailey Carmean, played really well today, too. She’s not super flashy, but she does her job well. She’s really become a different player in the last two weeks.”
Fruitport will take on four more matches in the regular season before turning their focus to Spring Lake, but Thursday night served as an appetizer for the main course coming on Oct. 30 at Fruitport High School.
“You never like to lose a rivalry match like that, but it was an exciting night of volleyball. It’s going to an excellent round of districts this year, and we’re excited to host it,” Bayle concluded.