By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
GRAND HAVEN – Teams that don’t manage to win their conference aren’t usually contenders for a state championship.
But the Grand Haven volleyball team doesn’t play in just any old conference.
But Bucs compete in the very tough O-K Red, which currently has five teams ranked in the state.
Grand Haven tied for second place in the league, but their coach knows the rugged competition was the proper preparation for the postseason tournament.
The Bucs got started on what they hope will be another serious run at state honors Wednesday by downing Mona Shores, the co-champion of the O-K Black Conference, 3-0 in the semifinal round of the Class A district tournament on their home court.
Grand Haven, which advanced to the Class A state semifinals last year, will play Kenowa Hills Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the district finals, with the winner advancing to next week’s regionals.
“I think we play in the best volleyball conference in the state,” said Grand Haven coach Aaron Smaka, whose team is ranked seventh in the state and improved to 41-17-1 on the season. “When you make it through our conference schedule you develop a certain confidence and mentality.
“Everything’s possible at this point. We just have to take it one game at a time. These guys know they just have to play every single point as hard as they can. We know (the potential) is there.”
The Bucs didn’t look like state contenders in their first two games against Mona Shores.
Their lead never got bigger than five points in the first game, and the stubborn Sailors grabbed a 15-13 edge at one point. But Grand Haven remained calm and managed to rally for a 25-22 win.
The Bucs built a 16-10 lead in the second game, only to watch Mona Shores roar back and make it a two-point contest at 20-18. But Grand Haven took control again when it mattered most, pulling out a 25-21 victory.
The third game was easier for Grand Haven, which dashed out to a 10-2 lead clinched the match with a 25-16 win.
Taylor Craymer paced the Bucs with 12 kills and 15 digs. Amy Kober added 10 kills and six digs, Krysteena Davis contributed seven kills, Emily Lachmann had 11 digs and Mackenzie Ritzema had four kills.
“I don’t think we played our best match tonight,” Smaka said. “We started out pretty rough. We didn’t come out with that fire and intensity, but as the night went on we got better and better. By the last game I thought we were playing very well.
“Shores did a nice job. They had a great game plan against us, and they managed to keep us off balance and didn’t allow us to run our offense at the speed we wanted. But I thought we did a good job adjusting and getting back up to our tempo and speed.”
Mona Shores finished the season with a 24-22 record.
Courtney Brewer led the Sailors with nine kills and three aces. Joelle Fisher added five kills and three digs, Kristina Davignon had 13 digs and two aces, Saddie Vela had five kills and nine assists while Jordyn Vilneff had four kills.
“I thought we played a very good match,” said Mona Shores coach Dan Potts. “We had our chances, but we struggled with serve receiving and it was harmful for us. We had to overcome a lot of challenges during the year, but I’m proud of our effort and how far we came as a team.”