The No. 7 ranked Grand Rapids Community College Raiders volleyball team sailed by the Kellogg Community College Bruins Thursday night in three straight sets.
As the first set got underway, the Bruins were handing the Raiders points as GRCC got their first four points of the game off of KCC faults. Dani Johnston and Kendra DeJonge each had a big kill to help build an early 8-4 lead.
Despite their numerous faults and unforced errors, the Bruins managed to stick around and climbed back to get within a point at 10-9. As the Bruins were just about to tie the set, DeJonge had another crucial kill that led to a Bruins’ timeout with them trailing 12-9.
The Raiders had several different players get kills early on making for an aggressive first set. Lauren Jonker and Emma Pachulski joined in on the kill party and with the Raiders only needing two points to close out the set, Mykayla Vallad delivered two aces to give GRCC a 25-15 first set win.
One of the players who played a key role in the set win was Autumn Severn. Coach Chip Will could be heard from the sidelines telling her to “be a weapon” and she gladly obliged.
“My coach usually tells me to be a weapon and tries to get me fired up,” Severn said. “He wants me to get involved in that front row and I think… the overall reasoning is to just get a few more points as that weapon up there.”
When the second set started, notable players like DeJonge, Johnston and Ally German were absent from the court as Will decided to sub in more players to get them experience. The decision made for a much closer set as the teams were tied for most of the set and were tied at 18 when the Bruins called a timeout.
With the Bruins threatening to tie it at 22, Pachulski delivered a massive spike that split the defenders and put the Raiders up by two. The two teams split the next four points giving the Raiders a 25-23 second set win.
During the final points, Will was yelling from the sideline to “play fast.” Pachulski commented on what playing with speed does for the Raiders.
“It speeds up our offense, kind of catches the other team off guard,” Pachulski said. “(It) puts us ahead – gives us an advantage.”
Despite winning the second set and being up 2-0, Will decided to put the likes of DeJonge and Johnston back in the game to close the door. DeJonge’s presence was immediately noticed as she had three kills in the Raiders’ first five points. Down 5-0, the Bruins’ coach was forced to call a quick timeout.
The timeout would have little effect as the Raiders continued to outplay the Bruins in the third set. With more contributions from Jonker, Johnston and Jenna Smaby, the Raiders went on a 9-3 run to increase their lead to 19-8 before eventually closing out the set with a 25-16 win and 3-0 sweep of the match.
Everything in the third set seemed to go the way of the Raiders and Will attributed that to something specific the team accomplished as well as the team’s preparation in practice.
“I think in the third set, we had no hitting errors which was nice,” Will said. “We want to make sure everybody’s playing, but also… we want to make sure that they’re doing well in practice to earn the right to come out. So we’ve really made that a focus of getting better in practice so it’s easy when they come out here.”
When virtually the entire team plays, Will has a lot of different aspects to dissect from each player during the game. His focus as a whole though is making sure that no matter who comes in the game, they’re doing what they are supposed to do.
“Everybody’s got a job and I think that’s the one thing we want to focus on,” Will said. “No matter what your job and what your role is – you know Mykayla (Vallad) comes in to serve for our middles and she’s really owned that role – so we’ve really tried to preach owning your role. I think once they get out here, it’s just understanding that they’ve got to do their job.”
The Raiders’ third set was arguably one of their best this season. Pachulski discussed what their “loaded artillery” needs to do to continue their strong third sets going forward.
“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on our first ball contact,” Pachulski said. “So serving and passing the ball because we can’t get a kill without a pass or a serve.”
Severn was proud of her team and was happy to get the win but mentioned that she thinks they can perform even better as they continue growing.
“This was definitely an entire team win,” Severn said. “We all performed – It wasn’t our best win but a win’s a win and we’re gonna be in the gym tomorrow and just getting better.”
One footnote from the game tonight was the absence of sophomore middle blocker Kayla Salyer who sprained her ankle in a game last week. She was on the bench in street clothes and Will addressed her status.
“Kayla probably could’ve gone tonight,” Will said. “She started practicing so she’ll be ready to go by next week.”
With this win, the Raiders move to 19-2 on the season. Their next game is Tuesday, Oct. 16 as they will travel to Summit Township, Michigan to face the Jackson College Jets. The Raiders return home on Thursday, Oct. 18 where they will host the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Cougars at 6:30 p.m. at Northview High School, located at 4451 Hunsberger Ave. NE in Grand Rapids. All home games this season will be played at Northview High School due to GRCC’s ongoing construction of the Ford Fieldhouse. GRCC Athletic Director Bill Firn gave an update on the construction during an interview on The Collegiate’s Fast Break Sports Podcast on Thursday.