GRAND HAVEN – Within the space of 72 hours, Grand Haven’s volleyball program will go from tryouts to playing other teams. Nothing for the faint of heart, mind you, but for head coach Aaron Smaka and his staff, it’s business as usual.
With players already slated to play at the next level, Grand Haven volleyball heads into 2019 in search of another deep playoff run.
“It’s one of the most exciting times of the year,” Smaka said. “I give our kids a lot of credit for all the work they do over the summer to prepare for this moment. This is the time when we can take a snapshot of the program. From here, things start moving again.”
The nature of volleyball at the varsity level is such that players can't just show up on the first day of tryouts and expect to be ready to roll. Most players statewide have spent the summer playing on club teams, not unlike an AAU system in basketball.
"We train a lot in the summer, and we look at that as an opportunity to improve," Smaka said. "We just try to see how far we can get them to go and evaluate them to make decisions on who ends up where."
The Buccaneers’ schedule will test them right away. Smaka and athletic director Scott Robertson have worked together to put the team in some competitive, high-level games from the jump. Tryouts started on Wednesday, and already the Bucs are headed off to Caledonia on Saturday as part of a scrimmage and will play in tournaments in Coopersville and at home before the annual Battle on the Boardwalk on Aug. 30.
“When it’s early in the year, you tend to focus on yourselves,” Smaka said. “It’s good to see where you’re at, to measure up and play some really good teams to see where we stand.”
Despite losing graduates Avolyn Lepo to Oakland University and Avery Strohmeyer to Lake Superior State, there’s still plenty of talent on the 2019 roster. Senior Ashley Slater heads into her third season as a mainstay on the varsity roster, while Sarah Knoll, Reece Redder and Reilly Swierbut will also play crucial roles.
Last year’s Bucs finished the regular season 35-19-2 and reached the regional final for the second time in the last three years before bowing out to conference rivals Rockford. This week, it’s not all about winning -- yet.
“The whole season is a journey,” Smaka said. “We’ve gotta have goals every single day about how we work. The idea is that this is a process, it doesn’t happen overnight and we have to continue to get better every single day.”