By Aaron Stoner
The Grand Rapids Community College women’s volleyball team traveled to Flint on Sat., Oct. 27 to compete in a four-team tournament with Muskegon Community College, Oakland Community College, and hosted by the Bears of Mott Community College and finished the day as the Michigan Community College Athletic Association Division II Regional Champions.
The Raiders started the day squaring off against Oakland and looked determined from the get go. The Raiders began the contest with a 4-0 run, highlighted by two Kelsie Schultz aces, followed by a kill and then ace from freshman Danielle Johnston to keep the team rolling. Oakland kept fighting and kept the score close early, but a 5-0 run pushed the score to 14-7. Then, consecutive kills from Johnston and sophomore Kendra DeJonge helped build the lead further to 22-12 with the Raiders winning the first set 25-15.
“I told our team to make sure to get good sleep last night,” Coach Chip Will said post game in an interview with the Collegiate. “Because any time you’re playing a rivalry matchup, it’s gonna be tough. But I thought our team stayed really emotionally and physically engaged during their games. So yeah, I was pleased.”
During the next two sets, the Raiders continued their dominance, getting strong play from Johnston and fellow freshmen Emma Pachulski, who iced the second contest for the Raiders with one of her signature power kills, giving the team a 25-15 win.
In the third and final set, Oakland took an early 4-0 lead, but after a timeout from the Raiders, the team responded and regained the momentum with continued strong play from DeJonge, and fellow sophomores Kayla Salyer and Autumn Severn, who helped carry the team to a 25-14 victory and a 3-0 sweep.
Following the Raiders’ strong performance, sophomore leaders Salyer and DeJonge talked about their team’s play and overall confidence heading into the final.
“I think after the first set, we just kinda got the jitters out, and got settled into play the second and third set,” Sayler said. “And we kinda knew since we had played them before and beat them, we could do it again. We just needed to stay focused.”
DeJonge echoed her teammate’s feelings but knew if they were to finish the day as champs, her team would have to stay grounded and ready.
“I think we can’t get too comfortable, and we can’t underestimate them,” DeJonge said. “Even though we’ve beat them already this season (Mott Community College and Muskegon Community College), we have to view them as another good competitor, and hopefully jump on them early.”
Despite an over three-hour wait in between the Raiders’ contests, with the second contest being played to determine who they would face, one might of expected a sluggish start with the Jayhawks of Muskegon winning their contest in an exciting back and forth, four-set match. But as DeJonge predicted, the Raiders did what they do best and built an impressive early lead. With a 6-1 run, forcing a Jayhawks’ timeout and another 7-1 run after the timeout, the Raiders were rolling. Back-to-back aces from DeJonge furthered the lead, and the team absolutely dominated the first set, winning 25-11.
“We just really had to stay disciplined today and stay mentally tough,” Will said. “It’s really hard to be great. You can be good, but it’s really hard to be great. It takes a desire, and so we really tried to focus on that; not taking mental lapses, because volleyball is crazy. You can take a mental lapse, and the next thing you know, you’re down eight points.”
For Will’s team, those lapses were few and far between in the final contest.
Set two was marked by tremendously tight play from both teams. With the Raiders trailing 19-16 late in the second set, massive aces from freshmen Jasmine Wellet, followed by a pair of DeJonge kills gave the Raiders their first lead of the second set, 20-19. The Jayhawks called a quick timeout to slow the burn, but the Raiders dug deep and finished off the set with a big kill from Breanna Wickerink, cementing the game 25-22.
In the third set, a fired up Jayhawks team seemed dead set on avoiding a sweep, and got incredibly strong play from freshmen outside hitter Jaren Smith. The contest was back and forth the entire way, but the Jayhawks were determined, knowing it was a must win, and found a way to tough it out with a final score of 25-23.
In the fourth and what ended up being the final set, the Raiders’ team, surely exhausted after some truly taxing sets, were able to come together and finish off a reeling Muskegon team.
With Johnston’s continued ferocious play at the front of the net, Severn and DeJonge’s precisely accurate serves, and some massive blocks from 6-foot freshman Lauren Jonker, the Raiders persevered to an impressive 25-19 victory, crowning them Michigan Community College Athletic Association Division II regional champions.
Jonker could barely contain her excitement after the game, relishing the opportunity to play for a state championship.
“I feel like there were moments when we were not playing as well as we wanted to,” Jonker said. “But in the end we pulled through, and yeah, I thought we played great. And now with state coming up, ugh, I’m so excited, we just gotta kill it and hopefully then make it to nationals.”
Will saw a team that while surely tired after a long, hard fought season, was able to draw from past experience, and use that to fuel their road to another regional title.
“To be the best out of 19, 20 teams is hard to do,” Will said. “This is our second three peat, so again; to want to be great, it’s a daily thing to want to be great and want to win championships. And you know, this time of year, kids are tired. They’re physically and mentally fatigued. But I thought our sophomores did a really nice job of instilling in our freshmen what it takes, because they got to see what it felt like to be led from last year’s sophomores.”
With the state championship only a few days away, Will’s team is poised and ready for the challenge.
“It says a lot to be able to put the number on the back of our shirt and to be able to go to regionals and nationals, that’s a memory that will last your whole life,” Will said. “So we want our team to remember the importance of that, but also stay loose and ultimately keep having fun.”
The Raiders travel to Port Huron, Michigan Thurs., Nov. 1 to face the winner of Glen Oaks Community College and Lansing Community College where the winner will be crowned NJCAA District F champions.