By Noah Genson

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – For the third time in four years, the Fruitport Trojans have won the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Volleyball Tournament championship.

The Trojans won in 2015, defeating Whitehall in the finals, and last year, with a victory over Mona Shores. On Saturday the Trojans had the tough task of facing state-ranked Whitehall once again in the finals, and came out on top at Reeths-Puffer High School.

But it was a little more of a challenge for Fruitport this year, because the talented team has been short-handed for a good part of the season.

Fruitport celebrates after scoring the game-winning point to capture the GMAA city title. Photo/Jason Goorman

“We’ve had to battle a lot of injuries,” said Trojan head coach Nicole Bayle. “But all the work we’ve done in the last three weeks, you could see it all culminating today.”

One of those injures was to senior setter Kailey Carmean, a key member of the team that advanced to the state semifinals last season. She tore her ACL and is out for the season. Coach Bayle said she meant a great deal to the team, but added that her teammates have worked hard to fill the gap.

“Kailey is the leader of our offense, so not being able to have that voice out there was tough early on,” she said. “But the other seniors have stepped up and into that role as vocal leaders very well.”

Another important Trojan who battled an injury was senior Rachel Paulsen, who hurt her ankle back on September 13th. But after watching her in action on Saturday, Bayle says it looks like she hasn’t skipped a beat.

Paulsen led the Trojans in the tournament with 28 kills.

Fruitport’s Rachel Paulsen and No. 12 Maddie Wescott go up for the block at the net. Photo/Jason Goorman

“Rachel was incredible throughout the day,” the coach said. “To be able to look out there and see I have her and Kylie [Oberlin] on the floor together, it makes coaching a lot easier.”

Led by Paulsen and Oberlin (22 kills), the Trojans were able to sweep the Vikings in the championship match, 25-12, 25-21, and 25-22.

The Trojans cruised to the first-set victory behind strong service runs from Sydney Bol and Jordan Carlyle.

Whitehall grabbed early leads in the second and third sets. But Oberlin and Paulsen stepped up for Fruitport, combining for 20 kills in the last two sets, and the Trojans hung on for two close wins and clinched the tournament title.

“We didn’t come to play in the first set,” said Whitehall head coach Ted Edsall. “That’s what set us back. We picked up our play in the last two sets, but it just wasn’t enough.”

Carlyle added to the Trojan attack with 17 kills on the day. Defensively, Oberlin was strong up front with nine blocks with Morgan Fialek had four.

En route to the championship, the Trojans beat Reeths-Puffer in three sets (25-10, 24-26, 15-8) and Montague (25-17, 25-17).

Fruitport is now 27-13 on the season.

Whitehall was led by Abby Seeger and Allyson Grams with 25 and 24 kills, respectively, in the tournament. Jaden Mikkelson distributed the ball well with 84 assists.

Whitehall advanced to the championship match with wins over Ravenna (25-18, 25-15) and Mona Shores (25-14, 25-12).

The Vikings are now 25-10-4 on the season.