By Sean Chase
The Grand Rapids Community College volleyball team faced off against the nationally-ranked Jayhawks of Muskegon Community College on Tuesday, March 9, which they lost 3-1. The scores for the sets were 25-15, 25-16, 25-18 and 25-20.
Tuesday’s match was the first time fans have been allowed into the Gordon Hunsberger Arena since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was, obviously, nice for our kids to be able to play in front of their parents,” said Chip Will, GRCC’s head volleyball coach. “A lot of these parents have watched these kids since they have been 12 years-old playing. It’s definitely nice that they were able to perform in front of their loved ones.”
As the teams began warming up before the match, palpable energy filled the arena as the bleachers, adorned with red and blue tape to help ensure social distancing, began to fill up. Fans were screened and escorted to the blue-tape areas of the bleachers.
After player introductions and the National Anthem, the fans were treated to an incredible contest.
The first point of the opening set went to MCC, but after an incredible diving save by sophomore Kylie Oberlin. GRCC turned the electric energy from the crowd into a dominant offensive stretch, as sophomore Haley Stewart served up back-to-back aces, causing an uproar on the Raiders bench as they took a 12-6 lead.
MCC fought their way back within two points of the Raiders, 13-11, during the set. However, their offense wasn’t enough to slow down the Raiders. Who rattled off seven straight points, before the Jayhawks would score again. After an ace by freshman Savannah Stoepker, GRCC took the first set, 25-15.
The momentum that the Raiders had built didn’t carry-over into the second set, as MCC scored eight points straight to take the lead, 8-0. However, GRCC sophomores Annie Holesinger and Gabi Kitley came alive on the offensive end, helping the Raiders tie things up, 16-16. Just as it got close, the Jayhawks closed the door scoring nine straight points to take the set, 25-16, and tie the match, 1-1.
Set three started off tightly contested as the teams battled to grow a lead, as things were tied up 12-12, before the Jayhawks were able to rally another large offensive scoring burst, to take a 20-12 lead over the Raiders. GRCC tried to fight their way back into the game, but MCC held off their attempts to win the third set, 25-18, and take a 2-1 set lead.
Needing to secure the fourth set to push the fifth set, the Raiders took a quick lead. However, the lead was short-lived as the Jayhawks, who are ranked 15 in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association rankings, took the lead and never surrendered it. Going on to win the final set, 20-25, and taking the match 3-1.
Despite the loss, it was a historic night for a few of the Raiders’ players, as sophomore Kailey Carmean recorded her 600th career assist, Holesinger recorded her 400th career kill and Oberlin recorded her 100th career block.
“We moved (Holesinger) to middle after about two weeks in the season, so that allows her to be a little bit more active antenna-to-antenna, from a blocking standpoint,” said Will, after the match when asked about Holesinger’s recent dominance. “Allows her to kind of run a bunch of different sets, rather than just hitting that high outside set like she did for the first two weeks.”
The Raiders were led in scoring by Kitley, who had 15.5 points, 14 kills and two digs. GRCC also received contributions from Holesinger (14 points, eight kills, two blocks, three service-aces and four digs), Oberlin (13 points, 11 kills and one assist), Carmean (25 assists, 10 digs and two kills), Stewart (12 digs and three service-aces), Stoepker (five digs and one service-ace), freshman Kara Hecht (five kills, two assists and three digs, freshman Zari Kruger (two kills, two assists and seven digs) and freshman Audrey Gower (four assists and two digs).
“For us right now, with the lack of gym time that we’re getting, we just have to take all of these moments and use them as practice,” Will said after the game. “Whether we’re playing Lake Michigan or Muskegon, taking the things that we actually do in practice but trying to do it more and more consistently. I think you see that (tonight), There were times that we executed our gameplay, executed our serving and we looked really, really good. But it’s just not consistent enough, as so that’s our goal. Find ways to make sure we do that more consistently.”
Next, the Raiders will head to Benton Harbor on Friday, March 12, to face the Red Hawks of Lake Michigan College. The match will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be available to live-stream on the Lake Michigan College Youtube channel.