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Seize the Day

Josh VanDyke • May 16, 2018 at 12:01 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — The Grand Haven boys volleyball team has enjoyed a tremendous opening season, winning the conference championship and establishing themselves as a premier program on the rise in a sport that is still in its infancy.

The program celebrated a successful spring season with a home invitational tournament on Tuesday in which the Buccaneers took on West Ottawa, Allendale and Carpe Diem.

Grand Haven breezed past the Panthers (25-9, 25-17) and fended off the Falcons (25-22, 25-15) to advance to the championship game against a Carpe Diem team that has given the Buccaneers problems in previous matchups.

In what served as a grand finale to the season, the Buccaneers scored a thrilling three-set win — 28-26, 13-25 and 15-9.

"I don't think you could have slated it any better," said Grand Haven head coach Jim VanTol. "To close out the season with a three-set match with Carpe Diem seems like about as perfect of an ending as we could have asked for. We have struggled against them in our other matchups, and they are a really good team with players who play organized club ball. Unlike our team, who has only been playing for three weeks."

The Buccaneers scored a thrilling 28-26 win in the first set, but couldn't counter a monstrous momentum swing by Carpe Diem in the second set in a 25-13 defeat.

"We gelled as a team better in that last set," added VanTol. "We didn't let anything drop on us, and we were communicating a little better. We won a lot of those scrappy plays that won points and those are usually what turn the momentum in a match. I think that deflated them a little after we won a few of those.

"I just told the guys before that third set, ‘This is our gym, this is our season, and we don't lose at Grand Haven'. These guys are all aggressive athletes, so it's not difficult to get them motivated. They might not be true volleyball players yet, but they are all driven athletes, so they all have that competitive fire in them. I think that showed in the last match and that's a big reason why we came away with the win."

Gavin Jonker recorded nine aces and 13 kills and three blocks to lead the Bucs attack, while Jake Thayer added 14 kills.

Logan Naperala added 10 kills, Trent Perkins added eight kills and Mason Fritz added five kills, while Scott Matthews added 28 assists and Tucker Beland added 23 assists.

"Tucker Beland has really grown a lot this year," added VanTol. "He had never played volleyball before, and for a basketball player to come in here and play such an important role at setter and do so well was impressive.

"That's the hardest spot to fill on a new team, and he really took that role and ran with it. In general, everyone on the team has grown a lot since Day 1. They've come a long way in a short amount of time and I think they played their best volleyball of the season tonight."

GROWTH IN GRAND HAVEN

The steady start to the sport of boys volleyball can be directly attributed to the passion amongst the local community, which has been ready and waiting to support the new sport.

"The Grand Haven volleyball community has talked about this for years," continued VanTol. "My assistant coach, Brian Cryst, has been trying to get this going for years, so this has been a dream of ours for a long time. It's fantastic to see it come to fruition and I don't see any signs if this slowing down in the future. The enthusiasm has been great already, and it's only going to get stronger."

Grand Haven girls varsity volleyball coach Aaron Smaka has been hoping for years that boys volleyball would become a reality along the Lakeshore, and seeing the inaugural season come to a close was a surreal moment for him.

"It's just exciting. I'm really happy for all the people that had to step up to make this happen in really short order," he added. "In order for this to happen, Jimmy had to agree to coach and he took on that responsibility right away. He, Brian and Scot Jonker have done an amazing job of putting this all together in basically three weeks.

"Then you have all these kids that have been willing to put themselves out there and go out of their comfort zones and try a new sport. It's just really cool because it feels like elements of this have always been there just waiting to get tapped into and now we hope that it explodes. The next step is to make this a sustainable thing and continue to grow from this base group into possibly 10-12 teams next spring."

The success of another volleyball venture, the Battle on the Boardwalk, has helped fund the start of the boys volleyball program in Grand Haven.

"Because of the Battle on the Boardwalk event, we were able to afford to put this on," added Smaka. "We are able to pay for the officials and the coaches and not make this a pay to play sports for these kids. It just felt like this was the perfect time to get this going and we wanted to make sure we did this the right way to open things up.

"We have a group of eighth graders who are interested in it, we have boys in third through sixth grade who are going to come to volleyball camp now, and we've heard kids at Rosy Mound are playing volleyball at recess. The passion for the sport is there, so that's really encouraging for the future of this sport."

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