The Fruitport volleyball team concluded a tumultuous conference season Thursday with an O-K Black Conference quad match, taking on Jenison in the nightcap with the league championship on the line.
In the high-pressure situation with hardware at stake, the Trojans struggled, getting blown off their home court in straight sets, 19-25, 14-25 and 19-25.
“It is great to be playing for a conference title, but it is that maturity piece we are still missing,” Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle said. “We have to know how to settle and play well and be intense. We have a well-rounded team, all six kids are capable of stepping up, we just have to take the risk and do it.
“I really believe that this is great for us to have this big pressure match ahead of playing Spring Lake on Monday.”
The Wildcats came out firing, putting on an impressive all-around display. Their powerful hitters combined with impenetrable defense made things tough for a Trojans squad who struggled to get any phase of their game going.
When it was going, the matchup was tough for a team that predominately relies on ball control, defense and serve dominance. Their patient attack just was not enough to keep up with the power of Jenison.
“We were really hesitant to start the first set, and continued to play hesitant — you just can’t play volleyball like that.” Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle said. “We did not pass very well tonight at all.
“It all starts with the first contact. We missed a lot of serves tonight. It was just a not very pretty night all the way around.”
The mismatch was evident from the start, as Jenison jumped out to a 5-0 lead in Set 1 before Bayle called a timeout to rally her Trojans.
Post-speech, Fruitport was able to get back into the game, taking five of the next eight points to trail, 5-8. The three-point deficit would be as close as the Trojans could rally. Relentless pressure from Jenison forced uncharacteristic errors from Fruitport, forcing them to scramble for every point.
Set 2 began better than the first, but quickly got out of hand. Jenison gave away the first point on an error before dropping the hammer.
Jenison ripped off 11-straight points to take a commanding lead, capitalizing on broken communication by the Trojans. Another timeout rally would kick off a four-point run to close the gap to 9-16, the set’s closest point, before Jenison pulled away for the 11-point victory.
Invigorated with their backs against the wall, Fruitport found their game in Set 3, and were able to hang around for the first two-thirds of the game. The Trojans threatened to take control multiple times over the set, but for every positive play Fruitport executed, a service error, long spike or passing error set them back.
“Jenison played great defense,” Bayle said. “Their libero and left side are great defenders and did a nice job. Every time we found some open space, they were there to put the ball away.”
In the loss, Jordyn Carlyle led the team with nine kills, ahead of Rachel Paulsen and Kylie Oberlin with eight apiece. Kailey Carmean lent a hand with a team-high 26 assists, while Trinity Busscher led the defense with 19 digs, followed by Rachel Paulsen with 10.
Oberlin and Carmean each recorded two blocks to lead the team up front, while Chloe Kern, Olivia Parling and Paulsen each recorded one ace to lead from the backline.
The loss was tough to swallow for a Fruitport squad on the cusp of a their first conference championship as members of the O-K Black, providing them with a lot to think about as the postseason looms.
“The good part of this is it is a lesson learned, it isn’t Monday,” Bayle said. “Our season isn’t over, we have some time now to reflect and think about the things we have to change.”
The team will return to the court this weekend for a few low-pressure games at Mount Morris, before dialing up the stakes once again as they kick off the district tournament at home against rival Spring Lake on Monday.
“I really think it will be a great volleyball game,” Bayle said. “Two really good teams that matchup really well in a tight situation for something important. You are going to see whoever can play better defense that day is going to win the match.”
Better now than never serves as a convenient mantra for the Thursday-night beating, but a conference title in their last game at home would have been a fitting sendoff for the Trojans’ lone senior, Chloe Kern.
The fearless leader of the Trojans has put her grit and dedication on display over her time on the varsity team, being the single member of her class.
“She is a great kid, she brings a lot of needed leadership to our team,” Bayle said. “She follows through with what she is supposed to do and embraces the lone senior thing. We are definitely going to miss ‘the colonel.”
Kern is undecided on where she will attend school after graduation, but plans on pursuing a college degree international business after posting a 4.34 GPA in her time at Fruitport.