The Grand Rapids Community College volleyball team stayed undefeated in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association (MCCAA) western conference Tuesday, beating a tough Muskegon Community College, 3-2.
The entire match was a roller coaster of performances, with the first set being “the worst they could’ve played” according to Sophomore Libero Janie Bunge.
“We played the worst offensively, and they played the best they could’ve played,” Bunge said. “They played out of their mind and we played the worst we could’ve played. It was game-time jitters I would say.”
The team has struggled all season with starting strong, but even with repeating that same bad habit, they were still able to turn things around and step up their game.
“We realized that this was pretty much a conference championship on the line and we needed everybody to win the game,” Sophomore Outside Hitter Lauren Weiber said. “I think the most important part was we stayed as a team throughout the highs and the lows of the game. There was never a point where I thought ‘Wow, we’re being really bad teammates’ … We really did excel in being teammates above all else.”
Knowing what to say to different teammates during rough spots of matches is important, according to Sophomore Defensive Specialist Kylie Frank.
“I think we have good connection and we all have each other’s back,” Frank said. “After each bad play, we can always get each other up and say the right things to certain people. Like saying a joke to Janie (Bunge) because me and Janie are so close, that will help her, but me saying something to Liv’ (Freshman Outside Hitter, Olivia Reams) would be something more supportive, more constructive of what she has to do.”
With team chemistry and “having each other’s back”, the Raiders started to improve throughout the sets, ultimately winning the match, and becoming No. 1 in the MCCAA western conference.
“I think our serve receive got better throughout (the match), our defense was awesome and so many crazy things (happened) that you can’t teach, so I’m proud of us.” Bunge said. “We definitely deserve it and it’s always fun to beat Muskegon given the circumstances of them being in our conference.”
Muskegon defeated GRCC last season in the regional tournament to stop them from going to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II national championships. GRCC didn’t forget about that and played “with a chip on their shoulders.”
“When we play Muskegon, it’s always a battle and we want to completely massacre them every time,” Bunge said.
The match was a game of tug-a-war, with GRCC losing the first set 14-25, rebounding and winning the second set, 25-18, only to drop the third set, 21-25, to then barely win the fourth set, 26-24, and close the game with a fifth set win, 15-11.
The rivalry was in full effect as things “got rowdy” during the game, according to GRCC volleyball head coach, Chip Will. They “had their backs against the wall” and “players had to step up.”
“I think we asked a lot of (players) to do things for us that maybe they weren’t comfortable with or things they weren’t typically used to,” Will said. “They came through and they executed and that’s all you can ask for. Just to give max effort.”
The freshman players for GRCC “have to learn how to work through pressure situations,” Will said.
“You can’t just say that there’s pressure at a random time, you have to let them experience it and I think we showed that we have faith in the kids to execute and at the end of the night, they did,” he said.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of high pressure situations before,” said Freshman Setter Lauren Helsen. “I dealt with a lot of stuff like this in high school. No matter what, it’s going to be stressful and you’re not gonna be used to it, but I’ve been in situations like this before which allowed me to not get fazed.”
Overall, it was a learning opportunity, not only for the players, but for the coaches as well.
“It was a learning opportunity for the coaches and it was a learning opportunity for the kids that sometimes it’s not going to be pretty,” Will said. “We had a few kids struggle tonight that typically don’t struggle and other kids had to help bail them out.”
GRCC will be looking to keep this momentum going as they finish out the regular season with only three games left.
The next match for GRCC will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at Kellogg Community College, 450 North Avenue, Battle Creek.
The next home match will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25, against Ancilla College, at the GRCC Ford Fieldhouse.