Holding a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 match, all the Bucs needed was one last burst of energy, one last stretch of dominant play to put away a Forest Hills Central team that was down but not out.
Insert 6-foot-5 middle hitter Abby Cole. Cole is one of the best players to ever wear a Grand Haven uniform on the volleyball court, and arguably the top player in the state of Michigan this season.
Cole was subbed out for defensive purposes and when she re-entered, the Bucs were clinging to a 15-10 lead, with momentum on the Rangers’ side.
“She walked past me and I told her, ‘Go dominate,’” said Grand Haven coach Aaron Smaka.
Cole followed her coach’s orders.
With her presence on the court, the Bucs turned in a 6-1 run and essentially put the finishing touches on a victory that in the past, had always been elusive. Grand Haven’s program had won 11 previous district championships, but never a regional crown.
The University of Michigan-bound Cole did everything in her power to change that, as she recorded four kills and two blocks in the late, decisive spurt. Her play frazzled the Rangers, and apparently, even their fans. As one Rangers’ student ran down the sideline with a green “FHC” flag, it fell off the pole and to the ground on his return jaunt.
The Rangers fell apart too, committing a four-hit error, a double hit, and a digging error on match point to give the Bucs (44-16-1) the three-game sweep, 25-18, 25-20, 25-12.
Grand Haven advances to Tuesday’s Class A quarterfinals at DeWitt High School to face Grand Rapids Christian at 6:30 p.m. The Eagles rallied back from a 2-1 deficit to upset top-ranked Gull Lake on Thursday. The only state-ranked teams remaining in Class A’s Elite Eight are the No. 8-ranked Bucs and No. 3-ranked Macomb Dakota.
“Honestly, I don’t care who we face,” Smaka said when the Bucs’ opponent was still unknown.
As red-hot as his team has been, it may not matter. Thursday’s 3-0 sweep added to an amazing postseason stretch for the Bucs, who have now won 30-straight games and 10 matches in a row, dating back to the O-K Red Conference Tournament round-robin matches that began on Oct. 25.
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