By Travis Tekiele
Local Sports Journal

PORTAGE- The state quarterfinals were postponed from Tuesday to Wednesday, but the delay didn’t slow down the Grand Haven volleyball team, which rallied to defeat Mason and move to within two victories of a state title.

The Bucs (52-8) dropped set one, and found themselves down big in set four, but overcame the adversity to claim a 3-1 victory Wednesday in a Class A quarterfinal match at Portage Northern High School.

Photo/Sally Ross

Grand Haven’s Katie Cole and Ally Knoll go for the block. Photo/Sally Ross

Their prize? A trip to the state semifinals in Battle Creek for the second time in three years. Grand Haven, ranked third in the state, will play No. 2 Novi at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

The winner of that match will advance to Saturday’s state title match.

“Both schools had to deal with [the game being postponed], and we just said ‘Let’s handle it better,'” said Grand Haven Coach Aaron Smaka. “We had one of our harder practices yesterday.  It was short, but man did they play hard, so that was good and we were prepared.

“These kids have worked so hard all year, and we’re excited to go back to Battle Creek.  We were there two years ago, so we’re excited to go back.”

Wednesday night’s win didn’t come easily. Despite a string of eight straight points in the first set to put the Bucs up 11-5, the Bulldogs battled back and won  25-22.

That was the first set Grand Haven has lost in the entire postseason, and the Bucs made sure it didn’t happen again.

“We made some adjustments and moved our hitters around,” said Smaka.  “I like how our team responded and they fought all night.”

Ally Knoll on the Grand Haven spike. Photo/Sally Ross

Ally Knoll on the Grand Haven spike. Photo/Sally Ross

Set two was knotted at 12 when Amy Kober recorded a kill to give the Bucs the lead.  The set remained close until the end, but Grand Haven never surrendered its lead and came out on top 25-21.

The Bucs were running on all cylinders in the third set. After getting down 5-4, Emily Lachmann got the Bucs going with a kill, and Grand Haven powered its way to an impressive 25-15 win.

Mason led midway through the fourth set, 14-6, and it looked like the Bulldogs were well on their way to sending the match into a fifth set.

But the Bucs had other plans in mind.

Service aces by Mackenzie Ritzema and Katie Cole, as well as multiple kills from Lachmann and Autumn Monsma, contributed to a game-changing 11-2 run for Grand Haven.

The score was tied at 21-apiece when Lachmann recorded a huge kill for the Bucs to give her team the lead. It was also Lachmann who slammed home the final kill of the night, ending the set 25-23 and sending her team to the state semis.

Lachmann led Grand Haven with 24 kills, including all three game-clinching points.  She also had 10 digs, three aces and two blocks on the night.

“We have a lot of weapons and we have people get hot at different times,” said Smaka.  “Our play in the last set was simple. (Lachmann) is playing great, let’s just give her the ball.

“It’s been other people on other nights, but I’m proud of her.  She’s worked really hard.  She’s been playing the best volleyball she’s ever played this last month, and I think she was just huge tonight.”

Monsma had 16 kills, eight digs, five aces, and three blocks for the Bucs.  Kober and Ally Knoll had six kills each, while Cole tallied 50 assists and Sophia Newhouse had 20 digs.

“Novi is a very balanced team,” said Smaka, regarding his team’s semifinal opponent.  “We’ve got some film on them and we’ve watch a little bit and prepared a little bit.  It’s gonna be a battle any time you get to the final four.”