By Lucas Rains
Local Sports Journal
ZEELAND – Two volleyball teams sporting blue and gold school colors met in the Class A regional finals Thursday at Zeeland East High School.
That’s where the similarity ended.
Grand Haven, ranked third in the state, continued it’s impressive postseason run with a dominant 3-0 victory over Hudsonville to claim the regional title.
The Bucs, now 51-8 on the season, advance to next Tuesday’s state quarterfinals against Mason at Portage Northern High School.
“It’s great for the program, it’s great for the community,” said Grand Haven coach Aaron Smaka, whose team won its second regional title in three years. “So many people put in time to help this program, so it kind of speaks to everybody and it’s awesome.
“I love my team. They’re a bunch of kids that are focused, they work hard, they love each other, they support each other, so I’m just really happy.”
The Bucs swept Hudsonville 25-21, 25-19 and 25-18. Grand Haven has swept all of its postseason opponents so far in the tournament.
“I thought we played well,” Smaka said. “We’re really balanced and the kids are working really hard. Hudsonville is a great team, they’re very well coached. We knew it was going to be a fight, but I also knew that we had a lot of weapons. They tested our ability to play great defense against them and I think that happened tonight.”
Grand Haven took control early in the first game, jumping out to a 6-1 lead, thanks to four straight service points from Mackenzie Ritzema and two kills from Autumn Monza. Hudsonville rebounded after a time out and put up a fight, but Grand Haven’s Amy Kober slammed the 25th point home to give the Bucs a 1-0 lead.
Emily Lachmann got Grand Haven going in the second game with three service points, including one ace, to put the Bucs up 3-0 . The Eagles once again clawed back and were neck-and-neck throughout the game, taking the lead a few times.
The contest was tied 16-16 when the Bucs won eight out of the next 11 points to seal the win. Ritzema blocked an Eagles’ shot to seal with victory.
Grand Haven led for most of the third game by at least seven points. Hudsonville, trailing 23-13, got five straight service points from Madelyn Keller to cut its deficit to 23-18. But that’s as close as it would get.
Lachmann led the way for Grand Haven with 14 kills, two aces and six digs on the night. Monza added 10 kills and nine digs and Katie Cole racked up 41 assists and eight digs. Sophia Newhouse had 24 digs and Ritzema had three aces, five kills, two blocks and five digs.
“They know that nothing that has happened in years past matters,” Smaka said about his players. “All that matters is the team that we have right now and they’re going to focus on the present moment. We’re thrilled and we’re going to get back in the gym and start working on Sunday.”