Grand Haven Tribune: Cream of the conference

Cream of the conference

Duncan MacLean • Apr 16, 2019 at 12:26 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — Every champion defends its title differently. The Grand Haven boys volleyball team has elected to rule the Michigan boys volleyball conference with an iron fist.

The Bucs are undefeated so far in 2019, but it is better than that. Grand Haven boys volleyball has yet to drop a set this season, as they cruised through the preseason quad and Monday’s first conference matches at home.

Mona Shores, Reeths-Puffer and Grand Rapids South Christian served as challengers Monday, with the Rockets and Sailors counting as conference contests.

All three teams fell in straight sets.

“I think the guys knew tonight was a big night,” said Grand Haven head coach Jim Vantol. “There were a little more nerves than normal on the first night of conference. But, everyone out there is an athlete of some sort from another sport, so they have all been in big moments before. In general, I think we play our best volleyball in bigger places. When games got tight, it seemed like we always had somebody come up with a big play."

Photo Gallery: Grand Haven volleyball remains unbeaten

Vantol said last week that South Christian was the team he was most interested in facing, saying their longstanding middle school boys program may put their experience level even with the Bucs. A 25-18, 25-15 win proved Grand Haven remains head-and-shoulders above the competition.

“It went pretty well, actually,” Vantol said of the first game. “We got a lot of players into the game and they all played well. Our hitters were putting balls away, we were serving well, receiving well, everything clicked in that match so we were able to play everyone. And everyone that came in did a really good job. Trying to get 20 guys into the match is tough, but we did it that first match.

“South Christian is a good ball control team. They keep balls alive. We have some offensive firepower that a lot of teams don’t have and we were able to get balls to our hitters and they were able to put them away.”

Game 2 came with more of a push, as Mona Shores played tough, as usual. Despite the challenge, Grand Haven won 29-19, 25-15.

“That’s the second time we’ve played them. Three of the four sets it has been 25-19, which means they are a good team. They have guys that can hit and guys that can block. They blocked us very effectively. We did a good job covering our block, but they blocked better than most and are better offensively than most teams.

“It was a pretty good match all around. We just out steadied them at the end.

Reeths-Puffer finished the day with a flourish, using high-intensity, fire-drill play to hang with the Bucs all the way to the end of both sets. Grand Haven needed every point to keep their perfect streak alive, winning 25-22,25-21.

“For a brand-new team, they are extremely scrappy, they just wouldn’t let balls hit the floor,” Vantol said. “We were making some pretty good plays, and they were diving over each other and making plays that kept us off guard. It was a much better match than I expected."

The brilliant play of Gavin Jonker continues to lead the Bucs on offense, as he racked up 23 kills Monday, along with four aces from the service line. Max Hartney followed with 11 kills and four aces. As a team, Grand Haven earned 59 kills to go with 42 errors. Setting up those kills were Scott Matthews with 81 assists and Gavin Yonker with 53.

Those numbers reflect an intentional trend of emphasized power, as coach Vantol and the Bucs look to capitalize on their unusual strength above the net.

“I say it all the time, but Gavin Jonker is going to lead us in a lot of categories. He is a really good volleyball player,” Vantol said. “Gavin Yonker also served really effectively at 93 percent and he served a lot of balls, he was our most effective server tonight.

“Our numbers last week were 60 kills in six games and this week it was the same rate. So, we’re averaging 10 kills per game, which at this level is extremely good. We had more hitting errors tonight than we had the other night. If we had a downside tonight it was those errors. That keeps other teams in the game.

“We play really aggressively offensively, so I’m never going to discourage hitting, but we had a lot of guys play tonight who maybe don’t have a lot of experience hitting from the outside. I want them to stay aggressive and to swing, so there will be some errors, and that’s fine.

“Both setters were really effective tonight, too. They moved the ball around well and they got our middles much more involved. Reece Chittenden had five big kills out of the middle. He is a really talented player, so we made some adjustments to our set-height tonight to get our middles more hits and it worked.”

While Grand Haven was preparing to kick off their title defense, Vantol had a few concerns despite their solid foundation of experience. With offensive power evident, serving and ball control were marked as potentially troublesome areas. Monday, the Bucs proved they are paying attention in practice.

“The guys have really kept serving in mind. It is something they really want to be good at,” Vantol said. “We passed at 2.51 tonight. Any college team would be thrilled to death with that passing number.

“We spend 60 percent of practice doing ball control. The guys have worked really hard in that area. I’m very happy to see that number — that is very, very good.”

With the boys starting close to Square 1 on the volleyball court new concepts, wrinkles and skills are introduced every week. The Bucs have kept up well, seamlessly adding in new areas of focus from week to week.

“Every week we try to get something better,” Vantol said. “There is so much to learn for the boys and the growing curve is much faster than you would expect with a girls team. And, we only have so long, so you have to go fast. We only have six weeks to do this, so we try to find something every week that we want to get better at. This week, it was running the middle.

“This coming week, it will be working on our set tempo. We run a pretty traditional tempo offense in terms of the height and speed of the set, so we want to try and get that speed faster and faster, especially to our pin hitters.”

With a new development goal set, the Bucs return to practice now. The boys volleyball season will continue Monday nights as the league rotates through hosts. For a chance to catch the Bucs at home, head to the Grand Haven Fieldhouse on May 2 and 11.

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