Battle on the Boardwalk sticks to script

Duncan MacLean • Aug 26, 2017 at 12:22 AM

Beautiful weather, catchy tunes and the Grand Haven marching band provided stellar atmosphere for the fans, while intense competition over all three rounds kept the courts hot at this year’s Battle on the Boardwalk.

For the fifth straight year, the Grand Haven volleyball team defended home turf, remaining the lone champion since the event’s inception.

The victory did not come easily in the 2017 edition of the tournament. They began the day with a loss to Mona Shores, and then took three sets to defeat Fruitport. Meanwhile, a poised Spring Lake squad grabbed a three-set win over the Trojans and easily dismissed the Sailors.

The Lakers met the Bucs in the defacto title game, where Grand Haven took the straight-set victory and the tournament title, with the head-to-head win.

“This year was by far the closest these four teams have been. Even when you look at the finishing marks, it was pretty even,” Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka said. “I think all four programs played well today, and we feel extremely lucky to come out of here with two wins and the trophy.”

Round One

Fruitport vs. Spring Lake

The 2017 Battle of the Boardwalk kicked off with revenge. Fruitport eliminated Spring Lake from the district tournament last season, before falling to Holland Christian in the regional.

The Lakers had not forgotten and jumped on the Trojans in Set 1, winning handily, 25-16.

A young Fruitport squad responded heartily, flipping the script to win, 25-18, and force a third set.

Spring Lake took control in the tiebreaker, while the Trojans’ communication broke down. The Lakers took the set, 15-8.

“It means a lot to the girls to beat Fruitport,” Spring Lake head coach Sarah Bulthuis said. “In that third set, I think they just thought, ‘We are not letting this slip away’. We played well in the first set and struggled a little bit in the second and they just buckled down.”

“It was our communication overall on the court, we just need to communicate. In the third set, we got on the bad side with the wind and the sun and it got to us,” Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle said. “We are a young team, so we haven’t developed that person who can calm us down and relax the team in tight situations.”

The rivals will meet again for their lone regular season matchup in October.

Grand Haven vs. Mona Shores

Playoff retribution was a theme in the opening round, as Mona Shores look for revenge over the Bucs after they eliminated the Sailors from the playoffs on their home floor last fall.

Now on Grand Haven’s turf, Shores jumped out to a 17-12 lead before the Bucs could find their game. As they got comfortable, Grand Haven chipped away at the lead, taking advantage of repeated unforced errors by Mona Shores. They eventually tied the game at 22. That was as close as the Sailors would allow as they closed the game to take Set 1, 25-22.

The Bucs controlled the opening half of Set 2, leading all the way to a tie at 18 points. The Sailors then took three straight points and control of the match, eventually winning, 25-23.

“They’ve beat us twice now,” said Smaka. “They play really good defense against us and they pass a lot better than us. They also serve us better than anyone else, and that gets us out of system a lot, and we struggle against that right now.

“As our passing gets better, hopefully we can handle that better and that should make a big difference.”

Round two

Fruitport vs. Grand Haven

Two young squads met in the second round looking for their first win, but it was all Bucs in the opening set. They used punishing net play to cruise to a 25-8 victory over an error-riddled Fruitport attack.

The Trojans responded in Set 2. After going down 3-0 early, Fruitport forced a tie at five and again at eight. From there, they took six straight points and the lead for good, finishing off at 24-17 to force a third set.

Grand Haven brought their strong set play with them to the tiebreaker set, and left their youthful mistakes behind. They built a lead coming down the stretch, 14-8, before the Trojans began to fight back. Fruitport took five match points to pull within one point, but the Bucs held strong and closed the door with an emphatic kill.

“We played well against Grand Haven,” Bayle said. “We had a little bit of trouble finding our rhythm today. We are not a huge team; we are a major ball control team. We have to be in control of every ball, in system and out of system, so we have to work on that and generating kills on offense.”

The Trojans and Bucs meet again Monday.

Spring Lake vs. Mona Shores

Riding high from their victory over Grand Haven, the Sailors hoped to keep it rolling against the Class B Lakers. They got no such satisfaction.

Spring Lake remained poised, jumping out to a 6-0 lead, and never relinquished it on their way to a 25-20 win.

Set 2 was much like the first, as the Lakers took an early lead and never looked back. They employed tremendous net control and dynamite serving to take the 25-19 win.

“I thought we served really tough early on and that got us some good jumps to get ahead early,” Bulthuis said.

Round three

Spring Lake vs. Grand Haven

Spring Lake’s win over Mona Shores put them at 2-0 coming into their matchup with perennial Boardwalk champion Grand Haven. The two would give the crowd a show, despite the Bucs winning in two sets.

Set 1 saw both teams playing their best ball of the day, but a hole in Spring Lake’s rotation kept them from pulling away.

“We had a player out, so we had to switch someone to the middle,” Bulthuis said. “She usually plays the right side, so that was new a new position for her.”

The Bucs pounded the substitution, exploiting the weakness to stay relevant in the face of dominant Spring Lake net play.

The two battled to a tie at 22 points apiece before the Bucs executed a booming kill, followed by a clutch ace to force match point. With their backs against the wall, the Lakers took the next point and a Grand Haven error to tie the game at 24, bringing on extra points.

Grand Haven’s youth threatened to derail the team once again as two errors gave the Lakers the lead, 26-25. Spring Lake botched a point of their own to make it an even 26 points each. Finally, Grand Haven took a kill for the lead before Spring Lake put the game winner into the net, handing the Bucs a dramatic first set.

Set 2 was less exciting. The Bucs continued to capitalize on a weak Spring Lake middle, while Jenna Core diced up the Grand Haven defense with kill after kill. A tie at 19 looked like another thriller, but the Lakers stalled down the stretch, falling 21-25.

“We’re really struggling with the first contact and our passing,” said Smaka. “That’s part of the reason why our sets look the way they do sometimes, but it’s August, and we still have a long way to go. We have a lot of good pieces, a lot of talented players and we’ve just got to play better.”

“We were right in that match with Grand Haven,” Bulthuis said. “We just had a few little things on defense and some service breakdowns that cost us.”

Leading from the service line for Spring Lake was Kamryn Lewkowski with eight aces, Madeline Zenas led in assists with 34, while Jenna Core took the kill crown with 13 and Carley Bench led with 32 digs.

For the Bucs, Olivia Boeve led with six aces, Lauren Jonker with 11 kills, Ashlyn Hall with 22 assists, Baby Hang with 26 digs and Kelly Klouw with four blocks.

Fruitport vs. Mona Shores

The Trojans picked up their lone win of the day in dominating fashion over Mona Shores, making it two wins over the Sailors for the season.

They jumped out to a 19-5 lead, before spotting their opponent a couple of points. They finished off with six-straight points to take the 25-11 victory.

Set 2 went much like the first with Fruitport taking an emphatic 25-16 win.

“When we got to Shores we finally started playing volleyball like my girls are capable of,” Bayle said. “We played well today, we played close with Grand Haven and Spring Lake, we just couldn’t execute those finishing moves to get in a position to win.”

Stat leaders for the Trojans include Chloe Kern from the service line with four aces, Jordan Carlyle at the net with 14 kills, Kailey Carmean with all 40 of Fruitport’s 40 assists and Trinity Busscher with 49 digs.

The entire event was a success for the city and local volleyball, giving young players from around the area a unique experience in their hometown.

“I couldn’t be happier with how many people have helped put this event on,” Smaka said. “Susan Tater did a great job organizing the 5k run. We had 70 runners, which is great for the first year. Jen Jetner came in and ran the yoga event this morning, and that was another fun event.

“Pete Goers ran the Adult 4s on Thursday night, the weather has been great and everything ran pretty smoothly.”

"This is such a great experience and event for these high school girls to participate in,” Bulthuis said. “Playing outdoors on a sunny, windy day at a great venue is something they will never forget.”

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