By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – They say experience matters a lot in sports.

But the Muskegon Community College volleyball team is an obvious exception to that rule.

The Jayhawks came into the season with eight freshmen and only four sophomores. That’s often a recipe for a lot of mistakes and a fair share of losses.

But Coach Rick Rykse knew there was something special about his squad this fall. Most of the women have been playing on elite travel teams through Inside Out, his local volleyball club, since they were in middle school.

The coach expected big things right away when they hit the collegiate level.

The Jayhawks continued to validate Rykse’s expectationsTuesday with a 3-1 victory over Kalamazoo Community College  that gave the MCC volleyball program its first outright Michigan Community College Athletic Association championship.

The Jayhawks, ranked fifth in the nation among Division 2 community college teams, improved to 32-4 overall and 13-1 in the conference.

They now move on to postseason regional play in Grand Rapids in two weeks. They need to win that tournament to qualify for nationals.

While they know the competition will be tough, they really believe they could go all the way and win a national title.

“I knew the talent I had coming in,” said Rykse, who’s in his third year as MCC’s head coach. “Nine of them played club for me at Inside Out, and I was looking forward to the year they would be coming to play for me.

“Some of them had offers from (four year colleges), but they all stuck around. Now our goal is to win a national championship.”

The Kalamazoo Community College team is probably convinced the Jayhawks can go all the way.

After losing the first set Tuesday 25-14, the visiting Cougars took an 11-10 lead in the second set, only to watch the Jayhawks plow past them to win 25-19.

Kalamazoo Valley jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the third set, but MCC fought back and clinched the match with a 25-23 victory.

“We have been a very resilient team,” Rykse said. “When we played Kalamazoo Valley at their place we lost the first two sets then came back strong and won the last three just like that.

“One bad game, one bad point, doesn’t matter. It’s not a big deal. We know we can always come back. The kids believe in themselves and each other.”

Brandie Jones paced the Jayhawks with 13 kills and eight digs against Kalamazoo Valley. Amber Carmean added 13 digs while Meghan Birr had 37 assists.

Birr leads the nation in assists among Division 2 community colleges, while Jones is second in the nation in kills, according to Rykse.

Rounding out the championship roster are Beka German, Elyse Ray, Lexi Oddy, Autumn Winger, Lindsey Kotecki, Mariah Felt, Stephanie Sedgewick, Brooke Morgan and Lindy Szilagyi.

One player who is happy to be part of the championship team is German. The sophomore attended Calvin College last year and played basketball and softball, but said she didn’t enjoy the experience.

So she came home, enrolled at MCC and found herself on the best volleyball team in school history.

“I know last year was kind of rough for this team, but our coach did a lot of recruiting so we knew the potential was there,” said German, a graduate of Fruitport High School. “We’ve worked really hard and a lot of girls have stepped up that I wasn’t sure were going to.

“I think we knew we could do this. There’s a lot of drive on our team. A lot of the girls are super competitive. We would love to go to nationals. Every day we’re pushing for that.”

MCC stats

ACES: Elyse Ray 4, Brandie Jones 3. KILLS: Jones 14, Beka German 9, Ray 8, Lindsey Kotecki 4, Meghan Birr 3, Autmn Winger 3. ASSISTS: Birr 38. BLOCKS: German 3, Kotecki 2, Ray 2, Winger 1. DIGS: Jones 8, German 5, Ray 3, Brooke Morgan 3, Bir 2.