The Grand Haven Early Season Tournament brought some top-tier competition to town as Mattawan, Forest Hills Central, West Ottawa, Saline, Holland, Mona Shores and Portage Northern paid a visit to the Lakeshore.
Grand Haven wound up facing Mattawan in the bracket final after defeating O-K Red Conference rival West Ottawa in the semifinals and finishing 3-0 in pool play.
The hot streak wasn’t enough to overcome the Wildcats, as they dismissed the Bucs in two sets (25-12, 28-26), to take home the tournament title.
The game was a tale of two sets, as Grand Haven mounted an impressive turnaround in Set 2 after they stumbled to a lopsided result in the opening game.
“It is almost like we are putting fires out as we go. We are learning on the fly,” said Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka. “I was really proud of how we adjusted in that final game. You look at Set 1 to Set 2, we showed we have the ability to learn on the fly on the court.
“Their system is fast. Their digging, their passes to the center and all their hitting options are fast. They were in system and we were on our heels in Set 1. Our off blockers weren't picking up the tips and we were slow to our spots.
“We have to be in system more. We are a big team, one of the biggest out there. We feel that if we are in system with another team, system for system, we have the ability to be better because of our strength and weapons."
Recomposed in Set 2, the Bucs jumped out to a slim lead and stayed there, opening the largest margin at 20-17. Mattawan refused to quit, upping their fast-paced play to put the pressure on down the stretch.
The Wildcats broke through in crunch time, working back from down 24-21 to tie the game. From there it was back and forth until Grand Haven committed two straight hitting errors to put the match away.
“In that second game, we were in system as much as they were, and that’s why it was so tight,” Smaka added.
“That said, we made six or seven hitting errors and six service errors, and Mattawan didn’t make those mistakes.”
The semifinal vs. West Ottawa was another nail-biter. Grand Haven took a narrow Set 1 victory, 27-25, only to have the tables turned in Set 2 for a 26-24 Panther win.
The Bucs took control in the tiebreaking third set. After falling behind 5-4, they tied the game up at 9-9 before cruising to a 15-9 victory.
“One focus we had today was to not give up any big runs,” Smaka said. “In that set we lost to West Ottawa, we gave some up. We played pretty consistently, but we are still working."
The competition was fierce for Grand Haven all day, including a test by Saline during their 3-0 run through pool play.
The Hornets pushed the Bucs to three sets (25-18, 20-25, 15-11), while Portage Northern (25-16, 25-12) and Holland (25-11, 25-16) took just two.
“To finish 4-1 today and sit at 7-2 on the season is awesome, even with that loss to Mattawan,” Smaka said. “We saw huge improvements from Saturday to today. The fact that we went to three sets twice today and come out with wins in both shows good things for us.”
The early season work means a wealth of players receive valuable court time for Grand Haven, each getting a chance to prove their worth on the stat sheet.
“We are still working some kids back in,” Smaka said. “Ashley (Slater) only played about half the time today as she is coming back from a sprain, and some of these kids just haven’t had the practice time. We really are learning on the fly.
“McKenzie Gross and Sarah Knoll had really good days and Avolyn (Lepo) did a really nice job at the net. Baby Hang, Reilly Sweibert and Reece Redder all did a really nice job defensively when they came in and Olivia McMullen did a nice job blocking, I thought."
Gross and Knoll led the way in kills for the day, each crushing 28. Slater followed with 15 in her abbreviated appearance.
Samantha Boove held down the assist department with a team-high 86, as well as the service line with eight aces.
Lepo and Olivia McMullen each finished with a team-high four blocks.
Grand Haven returns to the court for the Battle on the Boardwalk on Friday as they host Spring Lake, Fruitport and Mona Shores for a scenic tournament at the new Waterfront Stadium, followed by the Grand Haven Invitational back at the Grand Haven Fieldhouse on Monday.
Junior varsity: The Grand Haven JV volleyball team finished 3-0 at their home quad match Monday. Their first home contest of the season brought wins over Grant (25-16), Lowell (25-12) and Western Michigan Christian (25-16, 25-9).
Leah Perkins led the way with eight kills, followed by Ashlyn Pahl, Molly Long, Lezi Kaillo and Ava Bouwman with seven each. Eryn Beecham led with eight aces, while Anna Clover led with 16 digs. Olivia Lovett recorded 48 assists.