By Sean Chase
After 468 days away from their home court inside the Gordon Hunsberger Arena, the nationally ranked Grand Rapids Community College Volleyball team, suffered a heartbreaking loss in their 2021 season home opener against the Vikings of Glen Oaks Community College on Friday, Feb. 12.
The Vikings defeated the Raiders 3-0. The scores at the end of those sets were 25-23, 25-22, 25-16.
“It felt great to put a jersey on again,” said Annie Holesinger, a sophomore outside hitter for the team. “I think everyone was a little nervous for our first game back after 468 days and that’s a given.”
Due to COVID-19, there were no fans in attendance and players competed in masks. Instead of stands filled with supporters surrounding the court, the team faced a completely different landscape than they are used to. As the folding chairs that make up the teams’ bench were spaced out in accordance with social distancing guidelines and roll-up dividers segmented off the playing surface from the rest of the gym.
While it was great for the players to get back to competition, the new normal in sports will take some getting used to.
“It felt weird and good at the same time,” wrote Holesinger, in an email to The Collegiate. “We’ve been practicing for six months, but when you put a jersey on the whole feeling is different. It also felt kind of empty without our fans and that will take a little getting used to.”
The first set of the match was a back and forth battle as Glen Oaks jumped out to an early 5-1 lead. Then sophomore outside hitter Gabi Kitley and freshman Audrey Gower took over service for the team, and the Raiders rallied to a 21-17 lead. However, the Vikings held strong at the net and overcame the four-point deficit to win the set.
The second set started off in favor of the Raiders as Holesinger rose up and spiked the ball through the Vikings defense for a 2-1 lead. Libero Savannah Stoepker followed Holesinger’s lead as she took over service, resulting in back-to-back aces and a three-point advantage. The Vikings won the next few points as they took a 7-6 lead. When Holesinger responded with a huge ace to tie the contest back up. However, once the Vikings regained the lead they didn’t give it up the rest of the set, as they won the second set 25-22.
In the third set, the Raiders seemed to find their stride as they took a 10-8 lead. However, the Vikings went on an eight-point run from which the Raiders never recovered. The Vikings ended up winning the set 25-16, to hand GRCC their first loss of the season.
Even in a loss, the night was historic for Kylie Oberlin, who recorded her 200th career kill and Gabi Kitley who recorded her 100th career kill in the contest. Oberlin led the team in kills with 7 and blocks recording 2. Stoepker also put on an incredible performance recording 3 Aces, 12 Digs and 3 assists.
“I think everyone had their ups and downs tonight,” said Holesinger. “Kylie Oberlin and Gabi Kitley played really well around the net and they kept us in the game.”
The Raiders, who are ranked fourth in the nation in Division II per the latest National Junior College Athletic Association poll, will look to turn things around on Feb. 16, at 6:30 p.m., when Ancilla College comes to the Ford Fieldhouse. While fans still won’t be allowed into the building, you can catch the game live on the GRCC Athletics YouTube page.
Head Coach Chip Will could not be reached for comment following Friday night’s game.