By Dave Hart

NORTH MUSKEGON – When you think of successful volleyball teams in the West Michigan Conference in recent years, Montague and Whitehall come to mind.

But now North Muskegon has entered the conversation as a contender for the conference crown.

North Muskegon’s No. 8 Emily Judd on a set. Photo/Leo Valdez

The Norse entered Tuesday night’s match unbeaten in conference play, and remained that way after a hard-working four-set victory over Hart.

North Muskegon had to rally for the win after losing 25-18 in the first set. But the Norse took the last three sets by scores of 25-4, 25-12 and 25-20.

The Norse are now 10-4 overall on the season and 3-0 in league play.

“We have to work on consistency,” said North Muskegon Coach Heather Claussen. “When we play together and consistently, we can play with anyone.”

The first set was tied 6-6 before Hart went on an 11-0 run on a long service run by Avery Beachum and took a 17-6 lead.

The Norse could only cut their deficit to five points at 23-18 before Hart scored the final two points to take the opening set.

“We just made a ton of unforced errors,” Coach Claussen said about her team’s rough start. “It’s hard enough to play against another team, but when you’re playing against yourself to it’s hard to win anything.”

Finley Kistler sets the ball for Hart. Photo/Leo Valdez

North Muskegon rebounded in a big way in the second set, allowing Hart to score just four points. The Norse closed out the match with a 23-1 run after trailing 3-2 early on.

North Muskegon’s Syann Fairfield and Megan Houseman had long service runs during the second set.

The Norse continued where they left off in the third set, jumping out to a 4-0 lead. The teams then exchanged seven points apiece to make the score 11-7.

North Muskegon finished the set by going on a 14-5 run, with strong service runs from Emma Houseman, Fairfield and Megan Houseman.

The Pirates bounced back early in the fourth set, jumping out to a 6-1 lead on a strong service run by Cassidey Copenhaver. Hart ran its lead to 14-10 before the Norse went on an 8-0 tear to take an 18-14 advantage.

Hart cut its deficit to two points at 20-18 before the Norse scored five of the final seven points to sew up the set and the match.

“We struggled with communication in coverage,” said Hart coach Amanda VanSickle. “North Muskegon found our holes and picked us apart and we lost it from there.”

The Norse were led offensively by Fairfield with 22 kills and three aces while Emma Houseman had 10 kills and 26 assists.

Fairfield also paced Norse Muskegon defensively with nine digs, while Megan Houseman had eight and Izzy Rake added seven.

The Pirates were led by Rylee Noggle with eight kills while Copenhaver had seven. Finley Kistler chipped in with 19 assists.

Copenhaver had 15 digs to pace Hart defensively while Kistler and Ariana Borrego had 10 apiece.