By Steve Gunn

GRAND HAVEN – It’s a very good sign when a team doesn’t play its best, but still comes from behind to win.

That’s what the Grand Haven volleyball team did on Thursday, at least in the crucial third set.

Lauren Jonker finds a point for Grand Haven. Photo/Jason Goorman

The Buccaneers, always one of the best volleyball squads in the area, played very well and cruised to victory in the first two sets against visiting Caledonia in an O-K Red Conference match.

But the Bucs got sloppy in the third and fell way behind, and a fourth set in the muggy gymnasium was looking pretty likely.

But Grand Haven roared back from a six-point deficit and won the third set in overtime, clinching a 3-0 victory over the Fighting Scots.

Ironically, Grand Haven Coach Aaron Smaka said the third set was more typical of the way his team has played so far this season. He was happy to see his players remain mentally tough and overcome their mistakes.

“That third set is what we’ve seeing a lot of this year, so it was really good to overcome some of those things,” said Smaka, whose team improved to 21-10 overall and 1-1 in conference play. “Those first two sets were some of the best volleyball we’ve played all year.”

Grand Haven played extremely well in the first two sets, winning 25-19 and 25-16.

Grand Haven’s Olivia Boeve looks to make the block at the net. Photo/Jason Goorman

But things fell apart for the Bucs in the third, when they made nine hitting errors and fell behind early.

They trailed 20-14 at one point, then 23-19, and were precariously close to losing.

But Grand Haven kept battling and won nine of the last 12 points to pull out an amazing 28-26 victory to seal up the match.
Caledonia was at set-point four different times, but the Bucs resisted in every instance and prevented the Scots from prolonging the match.

“We were just kind of moving level, not getting to our spots and being where we needed to be,” Smaka said about the third set. “It was about forgetting what had happened so far in that set, remembering what we did in the first two sets, and getting back to that.”

Sophomore Ashley Slater was the biggest hero in the comeback, nailing seven kills in the final set, including big hits on the last three points that sealed up the match.

Slater, a 6-1 outside hitter, led the Bucs with 15 kills on the night.

“She hasn’t even turned 15 yet,” Smaka said about Slater. “We brought her up last year, and she began starting around districts. We’re hoping Ashley just keeps going.”

Senior Olivia Boeve added five crucial kills in the third set and finished with 11 on the night.

Ashlyn Hall had 27 assists for the Bucs, Baby Hang recorded 23 digs and Avery Strohmeyer had two blocks.