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Fruitport's Oberlin and Carlyle have formed a dynamic front-net duo

Josh VanDyke • Nov 17, 2017 at 4:30 AM

FRUITPORT — Being a middle blocker in volleyball can sometimes feel like you're on an island by yourself with a crowded gym watching your every move.

It's also one of the most important positions in the sport, which explains why the 2017 Fruitport volleyball team finds itself on the verge of playing for a Class B state championship.

The Trojans have enjoyed a resurgent season thanks in large part to the play of junior middle blockers Kylie Oberlin and Jordyn Carlyle.

"Jordyn actually changed positions this year," said Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle. "She had been an outside hitter her whole career, but we thought she fit the mold of a middle blocker better. We really wanted to have a more dynamic, fast-paced offense, and she allowed us to do that by moving to the middle position.

"We knew Jordyn could do a good job with that, and she took on the role change. We had her play that spot a little bit last year when Ally (German) had mono. She really showed some great potential then, so we decided to stick with it."

The added responsibilities for Carlyle hasn't slowed the talented junior performer down at all, as she has reached a new level of play that has elevated the entire team's potential.

On the season, Carlyle has recorded 49 aces, 349 kills with a .261 hitting percentage, 29 blocks, and 163 digs.

"It was a challenge at first because playing the middle is a very difficult job," Bayle added. "There isn't much leeway there; you have to run your routes and you have to be on time all the time. It's a workhorse job, and you're blocking and attacking every single play.

"She has done a phenomenal job with it, and she's really come on strong these last few weeks. To me, that's because she's learning how to play the position, and getting more comfortable in what she's asked to do. She's also getting more confident in herself and that's really unlocked her potential and made everyone around her better, too."

Carlyle's teammate in the middle — Kylie Oberlin — has been a model of consistency in her junior season.

Oberlin has recorded 21 aces, 397 kills with an impressive .344 hitting percentage, 57 blocks, and 147 digs.

"Kylie does a lot of the same things on the other side of the net for us," Bayle continued. "She's always been a middle for us, and we pulled her up last year as a sophomore and saw a lot of potential in her. We decided to model our offense around these two this season because we knew those two would do great things for us and be consistent performers.

"Kylie has a phenomenal hitting percentage. She works hard, and you have to give a ton of effort when you're out there as a middle. You're sprinting, jumping and flying in all different directions. They are both smart kids and they identify what's happening in front of them.

"They've changed the way that we play volleyball."

MIDDLE SCHOOL MIDDLES

Oberlin and Carlyle, like most of the juniors on the Fruitport volleyball roster, have been friends since middle school.

"We've been friends since sixth grade, and we started playing volleyball together in seventh grade," said Oberlin of Carlyle. "I like playing the same position as her because we can hear each other's viewpoints on things that are going on, and we can challenge each other because we play the same position with similar roles.

"It's one of the most difficult spots on the team. It feels good when you're able to work together along the front like that and make a big play."

"Getting kills for your team feels great because you're tired and you want to do what's best for your team and it's awesome when you come through for your teammates in a big spot like that," added Carlyle.

The two standouts were part of a dominant middle school volleyball team that in turn pushed expectations to a high level for their future goals.

"We're all really close. In middle school, we were 25-0 in seventh and eighth grade," said Oberlin. "That was really cool and we knew we wanted to do something big once we got to the high school level, and now we have our chance.

"Our team has had this goal since seventh grade to make it to states, so it feels like we're living a dream right now," said Carlyle.

PROGRAM STANDARDS

The Fruitport volleyball team has enjoyed plenty of tournament success over the course of their program's history, including state championships in 2005, 2010 and 2011.

The continued following of the program is something the current varsity players appreciate and use as motivation when they step out on the court.

"Just seeing all the alumni sitting together at matches and cheering us on is great," said Carlyle. "It's awesome to know we have that kind of support out there."

"I love it. Our alumni and the community are so into our volleyball program, and that makes us appreciate this moment more and want to play harder for them," said Oberlin.

"Coach Bayle has been working so hard for the program for so long, so for us to give back and make a big run like this means a lot to us. We're showing the true potential of Fruitport volleyball.”

Bayle isn't surprised to see this group set lofty expectations for themselves after they witnessed back-to-back state titles by the Trojans when they were younger.

"A lot of these kids that are on the varsity team now grew up watching the 2010-11 teams win state titles," she reflected. "They looked up to those guys, so it's always been a dream for them to follow that path and be on the big stage and win a state title.

"They're learning now what it takes to get there."

MOUNT MORRIS MOMENTUM SHIFT

After Fruitport fell to Jenison in their O-K Black Conference finale, their dreams of a league title were officially dashed. With the postseason just days away, the Trojans traveled to Mount Morris High School for a Saturday invitational tournament.

Some might have viewed a full day of matches less than 48 hours before their biggest match of the season as a negative, but it has proved to be a turning point for the Trojans' fortunes this fall.

"That was huge for us. Sometimes after a disappointing outcome, you just need to get back in the gym and get a few more reps," said Bayle. "The more you play, the more you can find your groove. That tournament is a huge reason why we are still playing volleyball today."

Oberlin thought the team finally clicked at that particular event, after a season of not quite reaching their potential.

"We kind of underachieved during the regular season, and I think the whole team would agree with that," she admitted. "We never really reached our potential as a team until the playoffs started.

"We started to click at the Mount Morris Invitational. We saw what we were doing wrong and made some adjustments to our game."

FIGHTING WITH THE IRISH

Fruitport's next opponent — Pontiac Notre Dame Prep — is the top-ranked team in Class B and has only lost two matches the entire season, while amassing more than 60 wins.

"They are a great team, and we're excited to go up against a top team like that," said Bayle. "Betty (Wroubel) has those kids firing on all cylinders, and we are clearly the underdogs. They play high-speed volleyball on the attack, which is something we've seen a lot of at tournaments throughout the year. They conduct their offense and defense very smoothly.

"We just have to go out there and be us. We know they are going to have some great swings or some great serves that score a point for them. The big thing for us is not letting that turn into two or three points by dwelling on it too much. We have to move on and continue to fight."

According to Bayle, the recipe for an upset is stick around into the later rounds of each set, force them to have to make plays and play mistake-free volleyball in return.

"If we can be persistent, chip away at their defense and stay locked in, we'll have a chance, because that's how upsets happen," she said. "When you stay persistent and stay on your path and stick to the gameplan, you force them to have to make extraordinary plays to beat you.

"I'm excited for our kids to get to this point, and to play at the Kellogg Arena. We have a fair shot to make them sweat and we're excited to go out there and play."

Regardless of the result, Oberlin and Carlyle, along with all the other Fruitport volleyball players, are ecstatic to be making their middle school dreams into a reality.

"This is a dream and we're living it," Oberlin said. "The school and the community want it, too. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, that's just Fruitport', but we want to get to the point where they see us on the schedule and say, ‘Oh, that's a really, really good volleyball program.'

"They are talented, tall and big, but we're pretty good too," said Carlyle. "We know if we play our game, we'll have a shot, and that's all we really need.

"We always play for each other out there. It's never been about one of us; it's about all of us."

 

For live updates of Friday’s semifinal match, follow @JoshVanDykeGHT on Twitter or the Grand Haven Tribune Sports Page on Facebook.

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