GRAND HAVEN — Grand Haven volleyball had a goal that stretched beyond winning games or trophies. It was simply to be playing their best volleyball at the tail end of their season.
On Thursday night, it was clear that the Buccaneers are at least approaching that mark, as they captured a 13th-straight district title in a sweep of Reeths-Puffer, winning 25-12, 25-18, 25-16.
“We were focused in and wanted to take care of business,” senior libero Reilly Swierbut said. "Getting to leave this legacy in our final match on this court is awesome."
For the Bucs’ senior class, it was vital that they won the final match on their home court. They had legacy in mind when it came to playing one last match at home.
“We were able to turn it around and control the match,” Grand Haven head coach Aaron Smaka said. "There were still some mistakes, but they're a solid team."
As they romped through their opening set, there was a slight worry that Grand Haven might have gone out too fast and expended too much energy. It was hard to pick out problems early on, as junior Mackenzie Gross and senior Ashley Slater benefitted from the passing of Samantha Boeve.
Gross started the first set with three kills before Slater stole the show early on, racking up five consecutive aces in the middle of the set to take the Bucs from a 4-point lead to a commanding 15-7 scoreline.
“I think a lot of it was just about how special tonight was,” Slater said. “It was our last game at home, it was a district championship, it gave me that extra rush of adrenaline to just hit the ball as hard as I could.”
The set finished 25-12, but Reeths-Puffer began to work their way back into the match. Better Rocket defense coupled with a handful of Grand Haven errors kept Reeths-Puffer hanging around until the Bucs led 15-13.
From there, Boeve and Hallie Rittel kept the Rockets from playing their style of offense with well-placed serves. The lead grew back to 22-15 before Grand Haven closed out the set at 25-18.
“I think today, they were focused on playing every point to the best of their abilities,” Smaka said. “There weren’t many mental lapses.”
The Bucs had plenty of errors to clean up after scratching out a sweep of Mona Shores on Monday, and Smaka was happy with how the team prepared for two matches in 48 hours.
“Reece [Redder] had a good serving night, Hallie had a good run in the second game,” Smaka added. “Sarah [Knoll] also had a good night in the middle, Sam moved the ball to many different hitters.”
The third set also began slowly for Grand Haven, but a pair of Slater aces moved the Bucs into a 13-8 lead. With match point looming, Smaka made sure all four seniors were on the court together for the final time at home.
“This match has such a different environment than our usual home games,” Slater said. “The student section was great, the parent turnout was great, the energy is so different but it’s more exciting which makes it mean that much more.”
Gross led the Buccaneers with 13 kills , while Slater and Knoll followed with eight and seven. Boeve ended the night with 34 assists, while Swierbut led in digs with 12. Slater also finished the match with 7 aces.
Now, Grand Haven turns its eyes to a regional semifinal on Tuesday. O-K Red foe Hudsonville has spent the majority of the season ranked ahead of the Bucs, but the two teams split their regular-season matches. They’ll wait until Saturday morning to find out their opponent, with Jenison and Hudsonville playing on Thursday night.
“This next week, we have to think about it like everyone’s 0-0,” Swierbut said. “Everybody wants to win, everyone wants to keep their season to keep going, so we need to want it more than everyone else.”
Smaka was also quick to thank his coaching staff after a 13th consecutive district title.
“We have so much experience,” Smaka said. “You have really good people around you that care about this program, and have former players. It starts at the young levels and comes through. Our kids and parents are just very dedicated.”
The Bucs will travel to West Ottawa on Tuesday to play their regional semifinal.