Grand Haven volleyball kicks off postseason run in style

Duncan MacLean • Oct 31, 2017 at 12:22 AM

MUSKEGON — Everyone wants to be playing at their best when tournament time rolls around. Avoiding late-season drama, polishing rotations and sharpened skill and wit ensure productive postseasons for growing teams.

The Grand Haven volleyball team is living their best life right now, while continuing to piece together their season with unconventional practices.

The Bucs took on Reeths-Puffer on the road in the opening round of the Class A district tournament Monday, downing the Rockets with relative ease in three sets, 25-17, 25-14 and 25-17.

“We always want to make sure we are playing our best volleyball in November,” Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka said. “We talked at the end of the regular season about how we need to work on some things, and I think we are in a good place mentally. Hopefully, we can use this game as a spring board to continue improving through the tournament.”

Some playoff jitters didn’t escape the Bucs. After dominating the Rockets out of the gate, grabbing a 23-8 lead, the final two points proved tough to come by.

“We couldn’t put them away, we make a couple mistakes, put a few in the net, didn’t make them play for those points,” Smaka said. “We had a few broken plays, then you turn around and it’s 24-13. I like the way we came out at the start, but still have to work on that killer instinct to finish it off.”

The Bucs eventually got it together, closing out the set, 25-17.

Reeths-Puffer put up their best fight in Set 2, sticking with Grand Haven through a tie at eight points. The Rockets closed the gap to one point, 11-10, before calling timeout to organize the rally. It was the Bucs who hit the gas upon resuming play, grounding the Rockets for their biggest victory of the evening, 25-14.

Set 3 was more of the same, as Grand Haven jumped to an early lead, 12-6, and never looked back. A few mistakes in closing time were allowed to snowball into Reeths-Puffer runs, but the overwhelming deficit rendered them inconsequential, giving the Bucs as pass into the second round of the playoffs.

Continued rotation and scheme changes kept the Bucs and their opponent on their toes throughout the game, causing a few of the errors down the stretch.

“We are still adjusting, and we keep switching offensive systems,” Smaka said. “I think it is a matter of making sure our rotations are good every single time and make sure we are in the right spots.

“We have Lauren (Jonker) playing right, and she is doing a great job for not having played much right. We are working on some new stuff on serve-receive, so I think part of it is just learning where everybody is at as we have made some changes here late in the season.”

Jonker excelled at her new position Monday, recording six kills. She trailed only Ashley Slater with eight, and Olivia Boeve with 12. Ashlyn Hall led the way with 23 assists, trailed by Samantha Boove with 13.

Boeve paced the offense as well as the defense, sharing a team-high 15 digs with Baby Hang. Finally, Avery Strohmeyer anchored a stalwats effort at the net, with three of the teams’ five total blocks.

“Boeve and Slater did a great job and Avery was really efficient in the middle, and Lauren was really good on the right side,” Smaka said. “Between the four of them, we had some great balance. Avolyn is coming on and looked a lot more aggressive at the net, which is great to see, and I really liked Baby’s movement on defense.”

The balanced victory sends the Bucs to the district semifinal round against Muskegon, who drew a first round bye. The Big Reds struggled this season, winning just one game through the regular season, providing a winnable matchup for the Bucs.

“We look at Muskegon as hopefully a chance for us to continue working on things. You gotta believe that if we come out to play it will be a good result and we will get a piece of the district final,” Smaka said. “But, you have to play the games, it doesn’t matter in the postseason. Things happen to good teams every year, so we have another chance to prove ourselves on Wednesday.”

Game time is slated for 5 p.m. Wednesday at Grand Rapids Northview High School, where the rest of the district tournament will be played.

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