GRAND HAVEN – Senior Sarah Knoll had bounced back and forth between positions early in the volleyball season. After Tuesday night's performance against Rockford, she just might be onto something.
Knoll's 13 kills were second-highest on the night for Grand Haven, who moved to 4-1 in conference play in a four-set win over the Rams.
"It's kind of fun to get to re-learn the stuff I used to know," Knoll said. The senior had switched between an outside attacking role and playing in the middle. "There was an adjustment period where I was going back and forth, so things were getting confusing, but after that I just went for it."
As is custom for this year's team, there was a hot start for Grand Haven. With the Rams in town, the Bucs opened with a 25-13 first set that ranked among their best play all season. A run of 10 straight points featured some strong play from both Knoll and Ashley Slater at the net, while junior setter Samantha Boeve kept the Rams on their toes defensively.
With momentum on their side, the Bucs promptly went out for the second set and did something they rarely do: lose it, 26-24.
"We had Homecoming last week, it might have had something to do with it," Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka said. "It's not an excuse, but in practice yesterday we worked really hard, but we did look a little tired tonight. We did a good job of pushing through, and not every win is pretty, but it was still a good performance."
Grand Haven responded with two straight set wins to take care of business, carving out a small lead early in the third set and maintaining it for a 25-20 third-set win.
In the fourth, Rockford tried to battle back, and even got the set tied at 21 late on. At 23-22 Grand Haven, Rockford thought they had tied the set after a kill, but a Ram player was judged to have touched the net, giving Grand Haven a match point for Knoll to end the night.
"We weren't taking care of our side of the net the way we should," Knoll said. "I think we all just realized we needed to play our game and we got things turned around."
Part of a problem for the Bucs in recent weeks has been maintaining the level of play from their first set onwards. It's hard to play perfect matches, but Knoll was quick to point out that it has been a mental change in-game for Grand Haven.
"It's been a lot of getting complacent," the senior said. "A lot of it is losing confidence heading into that second set, and then we don't start as strong. The whole thing just spirals, but we've been working in practice, so hopefully it'll start getting better soon."
Slater led the team in kills with 16, while Knoll's 13 was next-best ahead of Mackenzie Gross's 10. Boeve ended the night with 48 assists. The Bucs also served fairly well on the night, adding 11 aces.
"I also thought Reilly Swierbut did a phenomenal job passing tonight," Smaka said. The senior libero was out last Thursday due to illness, but was available for last Saturday's tournament. "The first set was awesome, even parts of the second. Sarah just had a great night, it was one of her best matches, she was really effective."
Now 4-1 in O-K Red play, Grand Haven will play East Kentwood at home next Tuesday before facing all six opponents in tri-matches before the end of the month.