By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

BATTLE CREEK – It was a painful way to lose a shot at a state championship.

The Grand Haven volleyball team came out roaring Friday against Novi in the Class A state semifinals, dominating the first two sets and appearing ready to advance to the finals.

Grand Haven No. 9 Amy Kober and No. 13 Ally Knoll go for the block. Photo/Sally Ross

Grand Haven No. 9 Amy Kober and No. 13 Ally Knoll go for the block. Photo/Sally Ross

But Novi scratched back to win the next two sets and force a fifth set tie-breaker.

Grand Haven’s junior standout Emily Lachmann, who’s been playing great volleyball throughout the tournament, hit a big kill to tie the score 8-8 in the final set. But she injured herself on the play and was helped off the court holding her left leg in the air.

With Lachmann out, Grand Haven was at a definite disadvantage. Novi went on to win 7 of the last 11 points and escape with a 3-2 comeback victory at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

Novi, ranked second in the state, will play in Saturday’s Class A state championship match against Romeo.

Grand Haven finished the season 52-9, claiming district and regional championships along the way.

“I’m so proud of this team,” said Grand Haven Coach Aaron Smaka. “It’s difficult to lose. It’s hard because we’re losing the great seniors who provided so much leadership this year. But I’m proud of the effort the kids gave and the kind of team they are.

Libby Cole on the serve for Grand Haven. Photo/Sally Ross

Libby Cole on the serve for Grand Haven. Photo/Sally Ross

“Sometimes the smallest things can make a difference between wins and losses.”

Smaka noted that Lachmann was on her feet after the match, and said he hoped her injury was just a bruise.

“You’ve got to take the game the way it’s played,” Smaka said. “It’s hard to say what would have happened if she had been in there because she wasn’t.

“I thought the kids did a great job in a tough situation.”

Grand Haven used its power game to dominate the first two sets. Lachmann, Autumn Monsma, Ally Knoll and Amy Kober nailed point after point, leaving a stunned Novi squad back on its heels.

The Bucs grabbed leads of 13-4 and 17-7 in the first set before Novi clawed back to within four points, 18-14.

But two kills from Monsma down the stretch, along with a kill and block by Lachmann, allowed Grand Haven to seal a 25-18 win.

The Bucs got off to another fast start in the second set, using five kills to build an 8-2 lead.

Novi again rallied to pull within one point, 14-13. But  a huge kill by Lachmann and a terrific combination block by Knoll and Kober gave Grand Haven an 18-13 edge.

Grand Haven s Emily Lachmann goes for the spike. Photo/Sally Ross

Grand Haven s Emily Lachmann goes for the spike. Photo/Sally Ross

After a Novi time out, Grand Haven got a kill by Knoll, two aces from Monsma, a tip shot winner by Katie Cole, a kill by Lachmann and another big hit by Monsma to seal the 25-20 victory.

At that point just about everyone thought Novi was finished. But the Wildcats had other ideas.

Novi started adjusting to Grand Haven’s hard hitters and making big shots of its own.

The Wildcats led through most of the third set by a point or two. Grand Haven battled and forced a 24-24 tie, but Novi got the last two points to steal a 26-24 victory.

The Grand Haven student section. Photo/Sally Ross

The Grand Haven student section. Photo/Sally Ross

Grand Haven seemed back on track in the fourth set, grabbing numerous four-point leads in the early going. But the Wildcats kept fighting, tying the score 12-12 and 15-15, before grabbing the lead for good,

Novi led 20-19, then took five of the last six points to force the fifth set.

The Bucs led by as many as three points in the tie-breaker, but Novi rallied to take an 8-7 lead.

That’s when Lachmann tied the score with a kill, but hurt herself on the play.

Grand Haven kept playing hard and forced an 11-11 tie, but Novi won four out of the last five points to seal the match with a 15-12 win.

“In the first two sets I thought they were a little tight, and in the last two we got a little tight,” Smaka said. “I thought they played outstanding defense and took us out of our system. I will say they are one of the best defensive teams we’ve played all year.”

Monsma finished with 23 kills, Lachmann had 22, Knoll added 11 and Kober posted nine. Katie Cole had 60 assists and Sophia Newhouse chipped in 30 digs for Grand Haven.