A 16-4 lead through the first quarter ballooned to a 55-30 victory as Grand Haven used early defense and sharp outside shooting to pull away early. The Bucs lead sat at 37-26 at the halftime before a less motivated third quarter closed the gap to 10 heading into the final frame.
Senior guard Alli Keyser started her season in record-breaking fashion, setting the tone for what promises to be a special final lap for the four-year varsity starter.
Heading into the game, Keyser needed four steals to tie Julie Henderson’s Grand Haven career record of 224. She had five by the end of the first quarter.
“We don’t talk about records a lot, so I told Alli before the game she was four away, just so she knew,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “So, she went out and boom, boom, boom, got that taken care of. It is going to be a year of breaking records for her. She is close to becoming the leader in assists and is on pace to break the scoring record.”
Keyser’s seven total steals were half of the Bucs’ 14 for the game, but that wasn’t the only stat they racked up. Nine 3-pointers found their mark in the season opener, including six in the first half of play.
The scoring was well spread, with three players hitting three 3-pointers each. Keyser led with 16 points to go with her eight assists and seven steals, all while committing just one turnover.
Jolee Houle, Grand Haven’s newly acquired guard via transfer from Zeeland West, followed with 11 points, including three 3-pointers, and five assists. Anna Strohm rounded out the sharpshooting trio with nine points, all on 3’s, three assists and three rebounds.
Center Esther Byington scored seven points to go with two rebounds and two steals, while Kelly Olthof shot 100% from the floor for six points. Olivia McMullen also had a perfect shooting night, hitting both of her attempts for four points.
Sophomore forward McKenzie Gross rounded out the stat sheet with two points, while leading the team in rebounds with five.
As a team, the Bucs shot 4-for-4 from the free throw line.
The balanced effort was an expected bright spot for coach Kowalczyk-Fulmer.
“It doesn’t get more balanced than that,” she said. “We are a pretty talented team. We have seven seniors, we have experience, we have size, we have skill players and shooters, and we have inside game, outside game.
“That balance means teams can’t just key on Keyser, because you have Strom knocking down shots and Jolee, who is a great shooter and has great vision as a passer, and then you have 6-1, 6-3, and 6-0 in the center. This team shares the ball really well.”
If there was any deficiency for the Bucs on Tuesday, it came in the third quarter when they were outscored 16-6, allowing the Rockets to cut the lead down to 10 points.
“I am happy with the effort, but we had a terrible third quarter,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “Basketball is a game of runs. You can’t panic when you are down and you can’t relax when you are up. We relaxed when we were up and didn’t get it done defensively, our shots didn’t drop and all the sudden it is a 10-point game.
“We just have to come out of the locker room with more energy. I’ll try to not dwell on it but it’s about getting better.”
The win is a nice way to start the season after a tough couple of weeks of training and a long offseason of preparation.
“We have been waiting for this,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “Obviously the kids have worked really hard and have put a lot of time into their games, we played three really tough scrimmages, and so we were ready for tonight.”
The work doesn’t stop for Grand Haven, as the return to competition this weekend with a jaunt to Traverse City before moving on to closer competition in the coming weeks and face the O-K Red Conference after Christmas.
“We will go to Traverse City this weekend and play some games then we have Mona Shores next week and then things get a lot tougher over Christmas,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “We play a good Grand Rapids Catholic Central team and Jenison and then the O-K Red is waiting. This was a good game to get us going.”
JUNIOR VARSITY: The JV girls defeated Reeths Puffer 33-29 in their first game of the season. Molly Long had 18 points while Caydee Constant chipped in with eight. Zoe Spoelman had seven rebounds while Avery Keefe added six rebounds and six steals. The girls are 1-0 on the season.