The Bucs took home wins over both Metro Division co-champions to claim the first regional championship in Michigan boys volleyball history. Because there are no east-side teams formed yet, it is the highest honor attainable.
“It felt really good,” said Grand Haven head coach Jim Vantol. “We knew we had the ability and we knew we had the players. We fought through a lot of injuries in the conference season, but we had everyone back.
“We had a lot of will to win. The seniors really wanted this. Our players just feel for the game and the raw emotion on the court was really amazing. Grand Rapids Christian did it right. It was a great atmosphere, they put on a really good show. It was like nothing these boys have played in before.”
After a dramatic five-set win over Lansing in the quarterfinals Monday, the drama didn’t stop for the Bucs. Their semifinal win over Kalamazoo Christian went five sets, with Grand Haven dropping Sets 1 and 4 (19-25, 25-19, 25-15, 23-25, 18-16).
The title round lasted just four sets, as the Bucs rallied in the fourth for a win in extra time (23-25, 27-25, 25-18, 26-24).
Gavin Jonker led the offense with gritted teeth after rolling his ankle and hopping off the floor in the first set of the semifinals. He returned to the court and rack up 39 kills over the two matches. Max Hartney followed with 26, while Reece Chittenden and Gavin Yonker each added nine.
“Gavin (Jonker) really showed his toughness tonight,” Vantol said. “He wasn’t all the way back from an injury he had before and went down hard in the first set. I figured he was done for the night, but he said he wanted to play and hobbled back out there.
“Him and Hartney, our big two hitters, really led us tonight. Reece Chittenden played right side attacker and really balanced it out nicely alongside Gavin Yonker.”
Scott Matthews handled the bulk of setting duties, racking up 97 assists.
“Scott did a really good job distributing balls tonight,” Vantol said. “Even when the passing wasn’t very good, he manufactured ways to get the ball to our hitters.”
Defensively, the Bucs had their hands full against two well-trained attacking teams. Caden Hostetter and Chittenden held down the net with six and five blocks, respectively, while Chris Hudson and Ethan Ball led the back line as defensive specialists.
“Caden and Reece helped out a lot against two really good offensive players, including some critical blocks in the final points of the championship game,” Vantol said. “Chris and Ethan led us defensively carrying the load in the back line, and Reece was outstanding covering the whole court. We switched him to more of a libero position so he could see more balls and it worked out. He must have had 20 digs and was just everywhere.”
Finally, the bench played a pivotal role in the title run with hype and energy in great supply.
“It was an exciting day,” Vantol said. “Very tense all the way through. Especially for the match against (Grand Rapids) Christian, there were a lot of fans there. I know that Aidan Stellema will be hoarse. He was all the way in making sure everyone stayed up. All the players that didn’t get to play much were into it. The emotion was real out there.”
For the second year in a row, the Bucs have finished atop the final standings of Michigan boys volleyball. In its first season, Grand Haven topped the four-team conference. This year, with triple the teams, the Bucs finished second in Lakeshore Conference play, but managed to run to the title round in the first overall tournament. Next year, the aim is to grow even more.
“We hope it at least doubles every year,” Vantol said of the league. “I don’t think that is a stretch. There are a lot of teams locally that have shown interest and if we can just get a couple of teams to start a hub on the east side it will go really fast and we can start a real state tournament.”
The Bucs finish 22-7 on the year. Now, to the beach.