Byron Center claims volleyball district title
Byron Center – Entering its district final matchup Thursday night against East Kentwood, the Byron Center volleyball team hadn’t dropped a set in the postseason on its home court.
The Bulldogs suffered their first blemish, but it hardly mattered.
Byron Center used a stunning 8-0 scoring run in the middle of the fourth set to take control in a 3-1 victory. It sends the Bulldogs to Tuesday’s regional at Zeeland East.
It also sets them up for a shot at their first regional title in more than two decades.
“We can do a lot with this group when they come together,” Byron Center coach Deena Vroegindewey said after claiming the program’s first district title since 1993. “They’re fighters. They fight for every single point.
“We came out with a lot of nerves in games one through three. Even in game two, we were playing tense.”
Byron Center won the first two games, 27-25 and 25-22, before falling 25-18 in the third.
“In the fourth game, we finally relaxed and played our game,” she said.
It was senior hitter Staci Brower who set the tone for a 25-14 domination.
At the outset, she blocked East Kentwood senior hitter Paige Vanderwall twice and had a stunning kill that produced three consecutive points and a 6-2 lead. She repeatedly blocked shots at the net and put balls straight down on kills as the Bulldogs took a 13-9 advantage and expanded the margin to 21-9.
“Our middle, Staci, started connecting with our setter,” Vroegindewey said. “She put every ball down that she touched. That was really the game changer when our hitter started connecting with our setter.”
Brower praised her teammates for putting her in perfect positions throughout the match.
“Everything we did, we did one point at a time. We wanted that game and we believed in ourselves,” she said of the overwhelming response in the fourth after suffering a third-game lull. “I knew if I got up there, I could help make a difference. I just tried my best to get up there and block and just hit and see the open spaces on the court. Everyone did amazing blocking.
“We just tried to shut them down.”
Byron Center (39-10-1) went undefeated, dropping just one game, while sweeping the OK Green Division championship this season. It has claimed just two regional titles in school history (1987 and ’93).
East Kentwood coach Heather Magelssen said her squad just couldn’t figure out how to prevent Brower from overpowering her team at the net.
“We didn’t have an answer for her tonight. I just don’t really know what to say,” Magelssen said. “It’s tough because I have an amazing group of six seniors. “We started to play more of East Kentwood volleyball in the third set.
“The first two sets, we were too nervous and we weren’t really able to execute our game plan. We didn’t pass very well,” she said. “In the third set, we rallied and regrouped. We played a little more like East Kentwood.”
Vanderwall led the comeback effort in the third game for the Falcons. It just couldn’t be sustained.
“They really took us out of our game tonight,” Magelssen said. “It just wasn’t our night tonight.”