By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

GRAND HAVEN – Teams that make a serious run at a state title are usually dominated by juniors and seniors.

But that’s not the case with the Grand Haven volleyball team.

While the Bucs certainly have some very skilled juniors and seniors, there are only six on the squad. The rest of the roster is comprised of sophomores and a freshman, yet the team has a good chance to finish on top.

The Bucs will begin their push for a Class A state crown Tuesday, when they meet Mason in the state quarterfinals at Portage Northern High School at 6:30 p.m.

If they win, they will move on to Friday’s semifinals at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek at 5:30 p.m. against the winner of the Novi-Lapeer quarterfinal match.

The state finals will be Saturday at Kellogg Arena at 2 p.m.

Advancing far in the state tournament is hardly a new experience for Grand Haven. The Bucs have won district titles and qualified for regionals eight years in a row. In 2012 they made it all the way to the state semifinals before bowing out.

But despite its youth, this year’s team might have what it takes to go even further.

“Being the last team standing is never an easy task,” said veteran Grand Haven Coach Aaron Smaka, whose team finished second in the very tough O-K Red Conference this season before rolling to district and regional titles.

“Within the program, we have been a team that could be in the mix any given year. It’s just a matter of having the cards fall our way. Just knowing we have that opportunity in front of us is exciting.”

The Bucs are playing extremely well at the perfect time. They have yet to lose a single set in four postseason matches, sweeping Fruitport, Mona Shores, Grand Rapids Northview and Hudsonville by 3-0 scores.

That’s the sign of a team playing with a lot of confidence, even as the competition gets tougher with every match.

And according to Smaka, the current group of players has that extra bit of passion and drive that’s necessary to compete for a championship.

“This group is so driven to get better, every single day,” said Smaka, whose team is 51-8 and ranked third in the state. “More than any other team, they come in and work as a team to get better – every single person, every single day. They communicate better than any team I’ve ever coached. They have big goals, but they don’t take anyone for granted. They know this run could end on any given night.

“What I’m most proud of, no matter what happens, is that they have done everything right, everything we’ve asked, to put themselves in the best possible position to win. You can’t ask for more of a team than what they’ve done.”

The Bucs are led by all-conference standouts Autumn Monsma, Emily Lachmann and Amy Kober, along with honorable mention all-conference pick Katie Cole.

The rest of the roster is comprised of Sophie Newhouse, Claire Holman, Mackenzie Ritzema, Claire VanWieren, Libby Cole, Morgan Ross, Ally Knoll, Olivia Boeve, Sophia VanderVeer  and Lauren Johnson.