The Laker volleyball team finished off their district championship run with a heart-pounding 3-0 victory over Whitehall on Saturday, winning by scores of 30-28, 25-21, 28-26.
The win is the first district title for Spring Lake since 2013 and just the second since 1996, fulfilling head coach Cassidy Hazekamp's long-held belief that the 2018 Laker spikers are a special bunch.
“I knew this team was capable,” she said after the trophy presentation. “Going back to August, I knew this team was capable. Having eight seniors and eight returners, I knew the leadership was there; we just knew as a coaching staff we had to get them prepared.”
“We are a really close team,” senior outside hitter Jenna Core said. “If someone isn’t having the greatest night, someone else is. It's not one person that makes this team work, it is all of us together.
“It feels so good to win it. We knew this team was special and how long it has been, so we really wanted to get this year on the banner.”
Photo Gallery: Spring Lake volleyball claims district crown
Saturday’s win proved that this Spring Lake team goes 15-deep. Core and Abbi Perkins led the offense with 14 kills apiece, while a strong block crippled Whitehall’s attack and dominant serving kept them on their heels.
Alicia Mumby led at the net with five blocks, while Perkins had three and Core, Taylor Colquitt, Madeline Zenas and Jencen Sabo all picked up a pair.
Behind the block, Core led with 23 digs, ahead of Lauren Cooper with 17 and Julia Clover with 15. Zenas orchestrated the offense wonderfully with 38 assists.
“We served Whitehall off the court today. They really struggled to pass our serves, and we blocked really well at the net, those two things were crucial,” Hazekamp said. “We knew Allisyn Grams is a real threat up front, so when she got up there we knew we had to send them out of system and try to take away that option, we did a really nice job of that.
“Jenna and Abbi have the ability to change the game and how we play. They both had 14 kills today. Early in the season, Jenna would usually have more but Abbi has come a long way this season and was a huge part of our success tonight.”
While their effort was balanced and execution high, Spring Lake’s resolve was tested early through a marathon first set, reminding this group of veterans that no team is going to go quietly this time of year.
After a tie at 18-18, Whitehall pulled away for a 23-20 lead, threatening take control with a crunch time surge.
The Lakers wouldn’t have it, picking up two straight points to force a timeout down 23-22. After the break, a crucial block at the net and a Core kill pushed the set to game point. From there, neither team could take two straight points.
Whitehall picked up a 28-27 lead, looking for a game winner in the battle of endurance. Spring Lake responded with three straight points, picking up another clutch block at the net and a nifty change-up kill by Core, before Kamryn Lewkowski iced the victory with an ace from the service line.
“We talked a lot in practice about how this was going to be a battle,” Hazekamp said. “Did I expect it to go to 30? No. But, we knew it would be back and forth and we were ready for that.”
“You just have to stay focused in those long sets,” Core said. “You have to remember it is just one point at a time and if they score you can still come back by doing the stuff we had been doing all game.”
Set 2 played out similarly, sans the extra-point dramatics. Ties at 5-5 and 10-10 kept things interesting early before Spring Lake took seven of 10 points for a 17-13 lead.
A timeout by Whitehall failed to quell the Lakers’ momentum, as they rolled to a 24-18 lead. The Vikings, again, refused to quit, stealing three straight game points from Spring Lake, forcing a timeout at 24-21.
The break was effective, as Zenas closed out the set on the following point on a second-hit tip, catching the Whitehall defense off guard.
With the title on their minds, the Lakers took to Set 3, which once again found a tie at 10-10. Spring Lake would open up a 20-14 lead, putting Whitehall’s season on the line.
With their backs against the wall, the Vikings swung hard, battling back to force extras with a few tremendous diving returns and acrobatic points.
Spring Lake got the last laugh, clinching the title on a block at the net for a 28-26 victory.
“We talked before the game about that sense of urgency late in sets,” Hazekamp said. “When a team feels like they are going to lose they give more effort. Whitehall busted their butts in those final points to get to balls I thought for sure were going down.
“I give them a lot of credit for their effort and perseverance. It was a great game.”
The win earns the Lakers a long-awaited bid to the regional tournament, where they will meet a familiar foe in West Catholic on Tuesday. The two met twice in O-K Blue Conference play this season, splitting the series with the Falcons taking the most recent meeting.
“We have a different game plan for every team, so after some scouting, we will assemble it,” Hazekamp said. “We have seen West Catholic twice this year so we have old film on them, but I’m not sure that will help. We just need to make sure we put together a good game plan and stick to it.”
First serve is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Grand Rapids Christian High School on Tuesday. The winner will advance to the district finals to take on the victor of Coopersville vs. Grand Rapids Christian.