Some players wiped away tears, while others looked frustrated that their O-K Black Conference title hopes were dashed by a poor performance in front of their home crowd.
On Monday night, those same Trojan players were wiping away tears of joy and soaking in every spare moment of happiness that they could after knocking off their rivals in No. 8-ranked Spring Lake in three sets to advance to the Class B district semifinals on Wednesday.
The Trojans will host the Orchard View Cardinals at 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to the district title game on Friday.
Fruitport used excellent serving, pinpoint ball placement and collective contributions from almost everyone on the roster to record wins of 25-22, 25-23 and 25-19 over the Lakers.
“We played really well tonight, and it was a complete turnaround from how we played the last time we were on our home court,” said Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle. “We were expecting a great opponent, because Spring Lake is a talented team with a lot of weapons. Sarah (Bulthuis) does a great job of getting them ready to go.
“We talked to our kids before the match about being ready for a battle. The kids came in tonight and executed the gameplan really well. We were really well rounded today, and we knew that was something that we needed in order to beat a team like Spring Lake.”
The biggest change for Fruitport since they dropped a non-conference match against the Lakers on Oct. 5 was their ability to spread the ball around and play into Spring Lake’s hands in the middle of the net.
“The last time we played them, they spent a lot of time double blocking our middles, and they’ve got a lot of tall, athletic girls up front that make it difficult to get anything going,” Bayle added. “We knew we had to spread the action out a little bit and make things happen in space.
“The X-factor for us tonight was probably our service. We served really well and had a ton of aces. We wanted to change where we were hitting the ball. We wanted to attack the ball down the line a little more and we needed to tip the ball to the deep corners more.
“The more unpredictable you are with your attack, the harder you are to defend. I think we are still learning that as a team, but you saw tonight how good we could be when we are unpredictable and using multiple attacks in different ways.”
Instead of wallowing in their loss last Thursday, the Trojans drove to Mount Morris High School for a non-conference tournament last weekend. That decision helped the team get out of their funk and build some confidence heading into their blockbuster matchup with the Lakers.
“We played bad on Thursday. I was a little worried about playing on the weekend before districts, but I thought it really benefitted us to get that poor performance out of our system from Thursday,” Bayle continued.
“We played some great teams, we competed and we had to play some great defense throughout the day. I think it was good for us to have to rally back from that and compete against someone else and we got our mojo back. We left Thursday without much confidence, but we came in today and played with a lot of confidence.”
Kylie Oberlin recorded 15 kills and five digs to lead the Trojans, while Jordyn Carlyle added 14 kills and Morgan Fialek added six kills.
Rachel Paulsen added three aces, seven kills and 26 digs, Trinity Busscher had three aces and 19 digs and Kailey Carmean 44 assists and 16 digs.
“Kylie played well. She started a little slow, but by the third game, she was getting single blocks, and she was just pounding the ball,” Bayle said of her middle blocker. “Jordyn played a nice game, especially in Games 1 and 2. Rachel Paulsen did an excellent job controlling the ball down the line and made a lot of big plays for us when we needed a momentum shift. Kailey spread the ball around really well from her position and was a big reason why we were able to spread them out on defense and attack the holes in their zone.”
LAKER LEGACY STILL BEING BUILT
For Spring Lake, a resurgent season comes to an abrupt end.
The Lakers finish the season at 30-6 overall, capturing an O-K Blue Conference title and perhaps building something special with a core of juniors and sophomores that gained invaluable experience this fall.
All that seemed like window dressing Monday night, however, as the team had to watch one of the biggest rivals celebrate keeping their season alive.
“I’m proud of the effort, but I have to give a lot of credit to Fruitport for taking us out of our offensive system,” said Spring Lake head coach Sarah Bulthuis. “They served us tough and put the ball where the holes in our zone were. They caused a little bit of chaos on our end tonight. We like to run a quicker offense, and we weren’t able to do that because of what they were doing.
“We just weren’t consistent enough. Our passing off the serve-receive wasn’t as sharp as had been, and that didn’t allow us to terminate the ball as quickly as we would have liked and caused some long rallies. They served tougher this time around, and we didn’t pass as well as we did the first match. They were just more consistent.”
Abbi Perkins recorded 10 kills, two blocks and nine service points to lead the Lakers; while Madeline Zenas had one kill, 35 assists, eight digs and two blocks.
Jenna Core had eight kills, three blocks and 18 digs; Carley Bench had 19 digs; Lauren Hellman had eight kills and four blocks and Jencen Sabo had five kills and 13 digs.
“Abbi did a great job and got some kills at great times,” added Bulthuis. “My libero, Carley Bench, did a nice job of passing and setting us up offensively. She made a lot of big plays to keep the ball in play and rallies alive.”
The Lakers will lose four seniors from this year’s team: Bench, Hellman, Caitlin Estep and Coco McKeough.
“They are going to be hard to replace,” Bulthuis added. “Carley is a two-year starter and Lauren has played middle for three years, so she’s been a fixture for us out there.
“Caitlin had a great transformation this year. She had been a setter her whole career, but we moved her to a defensive digger, and she made great strides this year. It’s a tough job, but she accepted the challenge and played great.”
Bulthuis knows the program is in good shape to remain competitive, and couldn’t be prouder of the personal sacrifices that each member of the 2017 team had to make it order to reach their goals.
“For them to accept a new coaching style on the fly like that says a lot about them, because I’m sure it wasn’t easy,” she said. “I’m a little more assertive and a ‘get in your face’ type of coach, and Cassidy is a little more laid back.
“They had to adjust to me, because I wasn’t going to change my coaching style. They adjusted to a new coach and a new setter, and we won 30 games and won the conference. We have a lot of things to be proud of and I hope they are proud of what they’ve accomplished because I know I’m very proud of them.”