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D2 VOLLEYBALL SEMIS: Defending champ, No. 1 Grand Rapids Christian sweeps past No. 6 Kingsley, back into finals

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, November 22, 2019, 8:42 pm

BATTLE CREEK — For most of the season, the No. 1-ranked Grand Rapids Christian Eagles didn’t feel like there was a target on their backs, dropping just nine sets all regular season, and none through their first four postseason matches.

It wasn’t until No. 3-ranked Coopersville rocked them back on their heels with a lopsided first-set loss in the regional finals that they realized how much other teams were gunning for them.

“Actually, we played on a Thursday, and we had a meeting on Friday — we didn’t practice, we just had a meeting — and they actually said that to me. They said that was a huge wake-up call. So I think since then, they’ve been playing pretty good volleyball,” Eagles coach Tiffanie Gates said.

“I think drawing from that, and just realizing that we lost that first set to Coopersville, 25-12, and rebounded and came back and won. Just learning that you can still dig deep, and turn things around. That’s our biggest thing. You cannot let those things affect you the rest of the match.”

The Eagles haven’t dropped a set since then, sweeping No. 4 Hamilton in quarters, and then following that up with a brisk sweep of No. 6-ranked Kingsley, 25-21, 25-14, 25-10.

Grand Rapids Christian (45-3) will face No. 2 Lake Odessa Lakewood (40-12) in the Division 2 championship match, Saturday’s 4 p.m. nightcap. The Eagles eliminated Lakewood in last year’s semifinals, then went on to beat Pontiac Notre Dame Pre for the program’s first title. [For the full pairings, CLICK HERE.]

They haven’t been looking at this as a title defense, though.

 “We tried to kind of flip it, and say ‘We’re not defending, we’re chasing.’ What are we chasing? We’re chasing a state championship with a new team. This is a new team, and we kind of had to figure new things out at the beginning of the season,” Tiffanie Gates said. “We graduated a couple of important seniors last year. We really never talked about defending, we were always chasing. And I think that mindset helped get us here.”

They didn’t graduate Jordyn Gates, the Miss Volleyball finalist, who recorded 28 assists, and added a team-high 15 digs, orchestrating an offense that hit .429 and .406 in the last two sets and .378 for the match.

Addison VanderWeide had a match-high 19 kills, while Evelyn Doezema had 10. Lauren Peal had 11 digs and VanderWeide nine.

Brittany Bowman led Kingsley (58-8-3) with 12 kills and 14 digs, and had their 19-match win streak snapped with the loss. It was Kingsley’s first appearance in the semifinals since winning the 2004 Class C title.

The Eagles’ defense held the Stags to just .118 hitting for the match, and .014 in the final two sets. 

“Obviously when you get to this point, you know you’re going to face good teams, so we knew coming in we had to play our best defense, pass well, serve well, and I think they really executed that tonight,” Tiffanie Gates said.

“I told them in the locker room before (the match), they made it through the hard part, this is just the fun part. This is just icing on the cake. I told them, ‘You made it through the small gyms with the huge crowds, and the loud student sections, and now you just enjoy every moment, soak it up and enjoy it.’”