By Steve Gunn
GRAND HAVEN – Anyone who glances at the final score might assume that Grand Haven volleyball coach Aaron Smaka was satisfied with his team’s straight-set victory in the opening round of the Division 1 district tournament on Monday.
But Smaka’s squad is 47-7, ranked eighth in the state, and has legitimate hopes of making a long run in the state tournament. If the Bucs are going to get far, Smaka says they will have to play much better than they did in their 25-19, 25-12, 25-20 sweep of Mona Shores on Monday on their home court.
Grand Haven now advances to play Muskegon on Wednesday in the district semifinals.
“I don’t think we took care of the ball tonight or played very well at all,” said Smaka, whose team won a share of the O-K Red Conference championship this season. “I think we have to play much better moving ahead. We want to advance far.
“I thought tonight was sloppy, to be honest. There were moments when we did things well, but we gave up way too many points at moments when we shouldn’t have. We have to clean up our game a little bit.”
Grand Haven relied on its impressive power game at key times, getting a series of kills from its big three of 6’3” Ashley Slater, 6’1” Mackenzie Gross and 6’2” Sarah Knoll to maintain control of the match.
Slater finished with 16 kills, Gross had 10 and Knoll chipped in with three. Samantha Boeve set up the offense with 31 assists.
The Bucs also showed off their service game, handcuffing Mona Shores with 10 aces in the match. Gross, Reece Redder and Hallie Rittel each had three unreturned serves.
Smaka admitted that his team has a strong power game, but said it will have to find other ways to score as the tournament moves along.
“Ashley and Mac had really good nights offensively, but we didn’t spread the ball around and relied too much on them,” the coach said. “We have to work on where we go with the ball and not just rely on the power game. We’ve been working on trying to be more diverse.”
Mona Shores, which finished second in the O-K Black Conference in the regular season, made the Bucs work for their wins in all three sets.
The Sailors only trailed by two points, 20-18, in the opening set, before Grand Haven took control down the stretch with a 5-1 run, keyed by two big kills from Slater.
In the second set the Sailors only trailed 11-10, before the Bucs pulled away with big hits, getting two kills apiece from Slater and Knoll. Redder helped sew up the set with a seven-point service run, including two aces, that gave Grand Haven a decisive 21-13 lead.
Mona Shores fought all the way to the end, building leads of 10-7 and 11-10 in the third set, before Grand Haven took the lead for good. Gross had four big kills in the final set while Slater added three, including the point that put the match away.
The Sailors finished the season with a 22-22-3 record, and Coach Kathy Hellmann was happy with the way her much smaller squad gave Grand Haven a run at times.
“They are very tall and we are very small,” Hellmann said. “We didn’t block very many, so that’s hard on our defense. They are strong all the way around, but I thought our girls did really well with what they had.”
Brooke LeRoux paced the Mona Shores offense with seven kills while Anabeth Hylland added three. Megan DeLong had six assists and Suriya VanderOord led defensively with 19 digs.