The Fruitport volleyball team has had quite a ride to kick off their 2017 playoff run. After a devastating loss to Jenison in the O-K Black Conference title game last week, the Trojans refocused with a casual tournament at Mount Morris before meeting Spring Lake in the opening round of the district tournament.
The rivals had a clash for the ages, with Fruitport coming out on top, exorcizing the close-game demons that plagued them throughout the season.
Wednesday, they hosted Orchard View in the district semifinals, with victory a near given. Fruitport held up, defeating the Cardinals in three quick sets, 25-12, 25-7 and 25-8.
“We talked a lot today about respecting opponents, momentum is a crazy thing,” Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle said. “Not playing our best today could definitely be a negative momentum switch for us going forward.
“We know what we are capable of now, but we also know what happens when we aren’t mentally focused for a match. That being said, it was not a challenge at all to get my kids motivated today, they are ready to rock.”
The mismatch on the court was evident from the jump, both in energy and skill. The Trojans took the first two points of the game via kill, then sat back and watched as Trinity Busscher ripped off four straight aces, forcing a timeout from Orchard View, down 7-0.
The break didn’t do much for the Cardinals, as Busscher blasted another ace in the first point back. A double hit by Orchard View gave the Trojans an 8-point lead before the Cardinals managed their first return. Busscher took the 10th point via ace, before handing the Cardinals their first point with a serve past the end line.
Everything was going according to plan for the Trojans, but with a 15-3 lead, communication broke down. Fruitport dropped two points on their side, with no one in position to receive the pass.
A timeout by Bayle righted the ship; as Fruitport took the next four points, going on to win the set, 25-11.
“I expect us to have to work through a couple points, no matter who the opponent is,” Bayle said of the brief implosion. “I try to not read much into it. I’ve learned about these girls you have to let them settle into a groove a little bit. “
The groove was found for the final two sets. An exuberant Trojan squad rolled their way through Set 2, giving up just seven points, and through set three, 25-8. In both sets, Orchard View managed to steal two game points to pad their score.
The Trojans put together an extremely balanced stat sheet, getting as many players as they could on the court for some bona fide playoff experience.
Rachel Paulsen led the way with five kills, followed by Jordyn Carlyle with four. Kailey Carmean ran the offense with all 23 of the teams’ assists, while Trinity Busscher recorded a team-high seven digs and six aces.
“Overall, it was a great day,” Bayle said. “You don’t always get a chance to play all your girls in the postseason, so that was fun.
“We served really well today. We talked about how this team will play scrappy defense. They are going to come out and return balls to us, we talked about being ready for unpredictable attacks. We always say, whoever wins the chaos ball wins the momentum, and we did a great job of that today.”
The Trojans have come a long way since last Thursday and their loss to Jenison. The victory put the already excited team and their fans through the roof, as the reality and gravity of the playoffs finally set in.
“They are on that playoff train, they are excited about the postseason,” Bayle said. “It was a major wake up call when we played Jenison, I hate how it happened, but it put us in a good spot mentally.
“We had great community support Monday against Spring Lake, and great support (Wednesday) and I expect it will be great again Friday night. It is nice to see that the players are getting that this is about more than them; it is about their team and their school and their town. I haven’t had to say much at all to get them going this week. They are ready to go.”
All that fire will be needed come Friday, as the Trojans take on Whitehall for the district title at home. The two teams met three times in the regular season, but everything is thrown out when it comes to the tournament.
“They are a very worthy opponent,” Bayle said. “They have great ball control, and serve-receive and defense, their libero is really good, they have some big kids that can terminate the ball. They are similar to Spring Lake.
“We are going to take them very seriously and prepare well and give our best effort, and hopefully come out with a district championship on Friday. In an elimination game, I know it will be a battle, but we seem to be ready.”