By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
FRUITPORT – The Spring Lake volleyball squad may be one of those teams that saves its best play for when it matters most.
And if Kelsee Zuidema keeps playing the way she did Thursday night, there’s no
telling how far the Lakers could go in the state tournament.
Zuidema was dominant with her power and finesse game against a talented Whitehall squad, helping the Lakers pull out a thrilling 3-2 victory in the Class B district championship match at Fruitport High School.
The victory avenged an earlier loss to Whitehall and sent the Lakers on to regional play next week in Hamilton. Whitehall wrapped up its season with an outstanding 40-11-3 record.
Spring Lake had a good regular season by any measure, winning 42 of 52 games and finishing second in the Lakes 8 conference.
But they demonstrated they are capable of more this week, beating Coopersville in five tough games in Monday’s semifinal, then outlasting Whitehall, the West Michigan Conference champion, in Thursday’s exhausting final.
The district title was Spring Lake’s first since 1996, a fact that was not lost on Lakers coach Sarah Bulthuis, who is in her 27th season with the team.
“I am beside myself right now,” said Bulthuis, who noted that most of the seniors on this year’s team were born in 1996. “I’m so proud of these girls and how hard they’ve worked and improved. We’re peaking and climbing at the right time. We still haven’t plateaued. We’re getting better and better every match.”
Zuidema played a huge rule in both matches this week. The lanky junior, in her second varsity season, recorded 22 kills, 31 digs, four blocks, nine points and three aces against Coopersville.
On Thursday she posted 25 kills, 30 digs, eight points, one ace and three blocks.
Sometimes she dominated with her power, smashing hard shots that the Vikings struggled to handle, and other times she surprised everyone with her finesse, dropping soft shots for winners where nobody was expecting them.
“I knew I had to come in here and really step it up for the team,” Zuidema said. “It was a big game. We all wanted it so bad, so I just wanted to do anything I could to help.”
“She makes a huge difference every time she steps on the court,” Bulthuis said of Zuidema. “She’s a great, explosive player. But she does a lot of other things on the court you may not see. She provides great leadership. She makes sure everyone stays positive and pumped up.”
Thursday’s championship did not come easy for Spring Lake.
The Lakers led for most of the first game, at one point building a 12-6 edge, but couldn’t shake the pesky Vikings. Whitehall pulled within two points near the end, before Zuidema’s booming kill iced a 25-22 victory.
Spring Lake was even more impressive in the second game, racing to a 19-8 lead and winning 25-16. Zuidema was at her best in the second contest, notching seven kills, including her second game winner of the night.
But Whitehall didn’t go down without a fight. Facing the possibility of a three-game sweep, the Vikings roared back to win the third game 25-18 and the fourth 25-11.
Jane Kuipers led the Vikings’ comeback with dominant play at the net. She led Whitehall on the night with 20 kills.
But the Lakers regrouped and reclaimed the momentum in the fifth and decisive game. They trailed 3-1 and 5-3 in the early going, but won five straight points to take an 8-5 lead, then finished off a 15-9 win by taking the last six points.
“Our passing and hitting became conservative and we were not aggressive enough,” Bulthuis said of the losses in the third and fourth games. “In the last set we stayed aggressive and that was the difference. I am very proud of our effort and the discipline we showed as a team.”
Whitehall coach Ted Edsall credited his team for coming back, but said Spring Lake deserved to win in the end.
“I really think we got outplayed,” he said. “I was really pleased with our comeback effort because we did not play well in the first two games. We were so out of it. We got a lot of good players but we didn’t play so hot tonight.”