By Dave Hart

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – Last fall the Fruitport volleyball team flirted with victory in the regional semifinals, building a seemingly safe two-set lead over Holland Christian.

But the Trojans lost the last three sets and were left with a stunning season-ending loss.

They made sure that didn’t happen again on Tuesday.

The Trojans opened their Class B regional semifinal match against Grand Rapids Catholic by again grabbing a two-set lead, and again losing the third set, before capturing the fourth to nail down the 3-1 victory at Orchard View High School.

Kailey Carmean reacts after a Fruitport point. Photo/Leo Valdez

Fruitport now advances to Thursday’s regional finals against either Grand Rapids South Christian or Grant at 7 p.m. The Trojans will be seeking their first regional championship since 2011.

Despite losing a late lead in the third set that forced a fourth, Fruitport coach Nicole Bayle said she preferred a challenging match over an easy three-set victory.

“It is good for us to lose,” Bayle said about the third set defeat. “If we go through this without playing tough matches, we will not know how to respond when we get to pressure situations.

“Once you get to the playoffs, dropping a set or playing a tight match is what will prepare you for the next match.”

Kylie Oberlin looks for the Fruitport kill. Photo/Leo Valdez

Fruitport, now 34-17-4 on the season, won the first two sets by scores of 25-20 and 25-18, fell in a very tight third set 28-26, then finished off the Cougars in the fourth and final set by a score of 25-14.

Junior outside hitter Rachel Paulsen made sure the Trojans did not meet the same fate as last year’s squad. She opened the fourth set with a four-point service run to help the Trojans grab an early 5-1 lead, then closed the match by leading Fruitport on a 9-1 tear with an eight-point service run.

“Towards the end I knew I had to make my serve and get it in,” Paulsen said. “So I tried to stay focused and I took a deep breath.

“My team needed to be picked up from the last set to be able to finish with a win. We needed to get back on track and stay calm.”

The Trojans were led offensively by Kylie Oberlin with 14 kills while Paulsen and Jordyn Carlyle added 12 each. Kailey Carmean had 47 assists.

Carmean also paced Fruitport defensively with 27 digs while Trinity Busscher totaled 23.