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Fruitport volleyball team overcomes late-set drama to advance to regional finals

Josh VanDyke • Nov 8, 2017 at 12:45 AM

MUSKEGON — Jordyn Carlyle recorded a pressure-filled kill at the end of the third set that appeared to send the Fruitport volleyball team to the Class B regional finals.

In fact, the entire team was on the court celebrating when the officials reversed the call on the court, giving Grand Rapids Catholic Central new life.

The Cougars went on to take the third set, 28-26, but that would be the only celebrating they would do the rest of the night.

The Trojans rebounded from the emotional chaos to dominate the fourth set, 25-14, and advance to Thursday's Class B regional final (7 p.m.) at Orchard View High School.

Fruitport will take on Grant, who defeated Grand Rapids South Christian (3-1) in the other regional semifinal match.

"You know what, it's probably good for us to lose a set like that," said Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle. "If we had advanced to the regional finals without losing a set or having any tight matches along the way, we probably wouldn't know how to handle that situation when it came up in the next round.

"Three games is always the goal, but once you get into the playoffs, rolling through all your matches doesn't really help you. I'd rather have some experience in a tight situation like that. I think it's good for these kids to know that they can play nervous and overcome a pressure situation."

‘The Trojans surged ahead of the Cougars in Set 1 for a 25-20 win and added a 25-18 win in Set 2.

However, with visions of advancing already dancing in their heads, the Trojans didn't start Set 3 as strongly as Bayle would have liked.

"We started out a little sketchy in Set 3, and didn't quite play the way we are capable of," she said. "We did step up after that and rallied back to take a late lead. That's very encouraging as a coach when you see your players work through a slow start like that."

Kylie Oberlin recorded 14 kills, four service aces, five digs and four blocked shots to lead the Trojans, while Kailey Carmean added 47 assists, eight kills and 27 digs.

Rachel Paulsen had 12 kills, 10 digs and two service aces; while Jordyn Carlyle added 12 kills; Trinity Busscher added two service aces and 23 digs and Chloe Kern added 13 digs.

"The majority of this team is juniors. Only two of these kids have a lot of playoff experience from last year — Kailey and Kylie," Bayle continued. "We had kids like Katie Veihl, Ally German and Kelsey Schultz, who did a lot of things for us, and now we have kids like Jordyn Carlyle and Rachel Paulsen continuing to expand their roles. I think collectively, we are learning that we can do well on the big stages.

"Rachel has been an animal on the outside the last two weeks. She's been really smart in her approach, too. She's noticing when there's a double block on her and she's helped us out of a lot of tight situations. I'm just really proud of her.

"Trinity played great defense on two of Catholic Central's really good outside hitters. She didn't have her best match against Whitehall last week, so I think she came in focused and determined to help her team out in a big moment."

Bayle knew she needed to calm down her team heading into the deciding fourth set, so she just told her squad to get out of their own heads and just play volleyball.

Paulsen responded by sparking runs at the beginning and end of the set to help the Trojans overcome the Cougars.

"We talked a lot before the fourth set about playing under control," she said.

"We knew what they were going to try and do, and we knew what we had to do in order to counter that. We had to just go out there and play and not dwell on the third set.

"Too many times, we get caught up in a situation where a girl might be thinking, ‘I hope I don't get set on this next ball and screw up for my team'. By the time Rachel had picked up her fourth service point in that fourth set, I feel like she was basically calming down the rest of the team with her play.

"It was her way of saying, ‘Don't worry guys, I got this. Let's just play good defense and finish this out.'"

Paulsen thought the team just lost focus in the third set, but found its rhythm early in the fourth.

"We started to lose track of our gameplan and our scouting in that third set," she said. "I think we just lost our focus at a few points in that set, but we were able to overcome that and rebound in the fourth set.

"I knew I had to make my serves and get the ball in play. We needed to a pick up mentally. We needed to get back on track and stay calm and collect ourselves, and I wanted to help my team however I could."

The win gives Fruitport a shot at its first regional title since 2011 — when the Trojans last captured a Class B state championship.

This young squad isn't too concerned about the past, but did want to redeem themselves after falling in the regional semifinals last fall.

"It means a lot to me, because we fell apart last year," Paulsen said of the win. "We didn't fall apart this time, though. I think we're getting better as a team, and we're getting more and more confident in each other."

It will take another strong defensive effort in order for the Trojans to take home a regional championship trophy, but if Tuesday is any indication, they appear ready for the big stage.

"I think we have a fair shot to be a regional champion if we play defense like we did tonight," Bayle said. "I told them after the match that everyone wants to win just as badly as we do. There's no emotional advantage for either team in that regard. It's just going to come down to execution.

"It's an exciting time for everybody. The players, the coaches, the parents, the entire community."

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