Wyoming, MI- The Tigers opened the Grace Bible Classic Tournament in a most impressive fashion. For only the third time this year playing at home it was a most inspirational two matches. “We have talked about changing the volleyball cultural mind-set here at Grace and with the fans we got the previous two matches we knew it was happening.” Coach Spooner said before the first match against Great Lakes Christian College.
In the first set Great Lakes, win less on the season, put up a valiant effort losing 25-19. The Tigers were using a different line up and found a much better rhythm and focus winning the second set 25-4. “Ashley Holcomb, (Rock County Christian; Beloit, WI.) played very well for Nichole Galbiscek on the left side. It’s really encouraging to ask players to play positions they’re not used too and see them respond. That gave Nichole some much needed rest for a recovering injury.” Coach Spooner noted.
The third set went to the Tigers 25-8. Staying focused and playing consistent volleyball was a real key in this match. Naomi Kemper, (Hudsonville HS, Hudsonville, MI) had 14 kills out of a team total of 34. Joey Spooner (Rogers HS, Wyoming, MI) in her first match hitting in two weeks had 8 kills. Shelby Jamieson (Wayland HS, Wayland, MI) and Nichole each had career high of 7 aces out of a team high of 19.
But it was the rematch against Indiana University Northwest that was epic. “We have never beaten this team in the school’s history. They are an NAIA team with scholarship athletes. We lost the previous three times we’ve played this year by 9-0 in set scores. But we also knew we were much better than we showed them. There was a team focus and mind set with defending our home that showed a completely different Tiger squad.” Coach Spooner noted right before the match.
Indeed in the first set the Tigers found themselves matching point for point. Behind great serving, outstanding passing that led to great attacks the Tigers did something they hadn’t done all year with this team- won a set- 25-19. “Wow, we played so well as a team and I was so proud of the on court attitudes of these ladies in competing for every point.” Coach Spooner said. “But I also told them we may have awakened a giant and be ready in this next set. Indiana is too well coached to just give up.”
Indeed Indiana jumped out to an 6 point lead 12-6 but the Tigers stayed steady and fought back. Again excellent defensive hustle and pursuit by the entire team along with great ball placement against a struggling IUNW defense put the Tigers right back into the set. A strong serve and then a kill ended that set with IUNW winning 26-24.
“I told the ladies this third set would define our team. I really believed we needed to be challenged to find this next level of play that has eluded us all year. It didn’t matter whether we won or lost so much as how we’d find ourselves as a team.” Coach Spooner said. And right away the emotions of the previous two sets found its way into the Tiger’s minds as they struggled being down 14-6. “Volleyball is very simple. It’s all about the pass. We struggled a bit and lost our way with what was going so well.” However after a time out, and stronger serving again by Nichole and Shelby the Tigers began to regain the composure and confidence from before. Getting to every ball defensively and making plays was the mind set on every point and the Tigers twice found themselves at game point only to lose that third set 26-28.
“What I saw in that set was a team unity and focus that was most inspirational. Players were not repeating mistakes but correcting them with hustle and putting balls back in play. We knew we could disrupt IUNW if we just kept giving them three chances to make a mistake. Of course it also helped that Nichole was having a match of her life, and with Joey back hitting, Naomi, Jessica and Tabitha all playing great defense, giving Shelby great balls to set there was not a sense of discouragement just an attitude of lets play the fourth set.” Coach Spooner noted with an encouraged spirit.
And in that fourth set the Tigers truly found out what they can do when behind but competing for every point. “Shelby did a great job of ball distribution to the appropriate hitters and that was all because of great passing from Jessica, Naomi, Tabitha and Nichole.” Coach Spooner pointed out. Behind several times the Tigers never got down more than 3 points at any time and then took the lead at 19-18. Shelby Jamieson ran off a string of 3 aces to put the Tigers up 22-18 but IUNW also found their focus and energy to tie at 22-22. Then tied again at 23-23, great defensive hustle during the longest rally of the night pushed the Tigers to 24-23. Then out of no where Rayna DoBrodt playing some of her best volleyball of the season finished the set with a kill shot down line and the Tigers were in the fifth set.
“This will be the fifth time we’ve been in a fifth set and there was such a sense of energy and excitement that you really get a bit worried it might be too much. Getting back to our basic focus and context of who we are was critical at this time. In a set to 15 points, getting up early was most important and knowing we had first serve with Nichole followed by Shelby was perfect.” Coach Spooner said right before the deciding set.
Indeed that was prophetic as Nichole served the Tigers to a 3-0 advantage. After a Tiger side-out, Shelby Jamieson stepped up with 3 of her 5 aces for the night and the Tigers found themselves ahead 8-2 at the side exchange. Making sure the team didn’t let down Coach Spooner calmly reminded them it was far from over and focus on what got them there in the first place. With a great kill and stuff block by Joey, followed by a Naomi back row attack and great defensive play by Jessica the Tigers won 15-4 in a most impressively dominating fashion.
“What a great match for this team to win. They competed for every point and when getting down at times found a confident way back to a winning attitude and spirit. I am very proud of all of them and what they accomplished tonight.” An obviously excited Coach Spooner said after the match. “IUNW is a very good team who is having one of their best seasons ever. They are well coached and to come away with a win in front of great fans was just tremendous. Now the most interesting learning curve will be how we finish the tournament Saturday.”
Once again Naomi Kemper led the Tigers in kills with 20 out of a team and season high 60. But it was the balanced distribution of sets and kills that was most impressive. Nichole with 16 kills and 0 hitting errors was outstanding along with Joee Spooner-13 kills, Rayna-7 kills. Naomi also had 17 digs along with a painful 14 digs from injured Jessica Ryan who also had 29 serve receptions. Tabitha Ryan had 8 digs and served 22 times with only 2 errors. “This was Tabitha’s best match in her three years at Grace. Very active on her feet and really showed poise and consistency serving so well.” Coach Spooner noted about the junior from Hopkins. Shelby Jamieson had a career high of 40 assists and 5 aces in serving 32 times and only 1 error. “I think the team realizes what Shelby can do with good passing. Getting her feet under sets and intelligent distribution was critical to our balanced attacks. And the consistent pressure she puts on teams with aggressive serving was outstanding tonight.” Leslie Pumford led the team in solo blocks with 3 while Joey had a total of 5 blocks. “Sometimes the stats that are most important are not so much what a player did but what they didn’t do. Leslie has struggled a bit with blocking errors but tonight in both matches only had a total of 2 and that gives her more confidence playing middle.” Coach point out.
The Tigers now play Ohio Christian University and Moody Bible Institute at 9:00am and 3:00pm respectfully Saturday.