• Michigan

No. 1 Grand Rapids Christian is all business, sweeping No. 3 Lakewood to advance to first-ever title match

By: Matthew B. Mowery, November 15, 2018, 10:45 pm

BATTLE CREEK — Grand Rapids Christian isn’t messing around.

The Eagles are all business.

Top-ranked Grand Rapids Christian continued its business-like roll through the Division 2 postseason on Thursday, sweeping No. 3-ranked Lake Odessa Lakewood, 25-14, 25-20, 25-14, to earn a spot in the program’s first-ever state championship match.

“I think our mindset throughout the postseason has stayed consistent for every single game,” said senior Maria Bos. “Whether it’s the first round of districts, or the state championship, we have the same mindset: get the job done.”

That wasn’t necessarily the case a year ago, when the Eagles got bounced from the Class A quarterfinals in a sweep, after beating the team they’d set out to beat, Rockford, in the regional round.

“I think what’s different about this team is, especially last year, our state championship game was Rockford. All we had to do was be on top, and beat Rockford. So going into the next game, we weren’t prepared,” junior setter Jordyn Gates said. “This year, every game is like that Rockford game. Every game, we want to take care of business, so we can go on to the next one. It isn’t like, if we lose this game, this is what happens. This year, we get past this team, and see what happens. It’s just a different mindset. It also helps with the nerves, because going in, you feel very confident. If we play our game, everything will fall into place. We don’t have to worry about the technical stuff. This team has gotten really mentally tough this season.”

The Eagles (45-5) have one more item of business to attend to: A 4 p.m. meeting in the D2 title match on Saturday, facing No. 2-ranked Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (64-5), the team that won last year’s Class B crown.

“I think we’re going to match up well, because it’s kind of the battle of the outsides a little bit, so when you train against that in practice, I think you’re used to it more,” said Eagles coach Tiffannie Gates of the match-up between Bos and Addie VanderWeide on the outside, against Notre Dame Prep’s Miss Volleyball candidates Natalie Risi and Maddy Chinn, the award winner. “I always think we’re not as good when it’s a middle-heavy team, but when we play against outside-heavy teams, we usually play pretty well. I think they’re probably going to be the same way. But we’re fired up. We’re ready to go. Let’s play.”

The Eagles wasted no time disposing of a Lakewood squad that has been here repeatedly, finishing as Class B runner-up three of the last four years.

VanderWiede led all hitters with 14 kills, while Bos had nine and 10 digs, and the Eagles hit .349 as a team. Gates had 35 assists, and Elizabeth Rupp had four of the team’s nine aces, while Gates had three.

“Tonight, they just overwhelmed us,” said first-year Lakewood coach Cameron Rowland, who took the program over from his mother, Kellie. “Their setter had them in system, no matter where they passed the ball. And they just absolutely overwhelmed us.”

The Vikings (46-9-2) made it closer in the second set, but had trouble keeping up in the first and third sets.

“We’re confident in our training. We’ve trained really, really hard this year. We’ve talked about when those nerves set in, or things start to fall apart, you revert back to your training. That’s what we saw tonight,” Tiffannie Gates said. “Even though there were nerves, they worked so hard in the gym for so long, it just manifested itself today.”

For Lakewood, the future is still bright, with 6-foot-3 sophomore Aubrey O’Gorman (8 kills) and 6-1 freshman Maradith O’Gorman (10 kills).

“I told the seniors they left this program better than they found it. We’re playing on the last weekend of the year, again, and that’s where Lakewood volleyball belongs. We’ll be back. We’re going to keep coming back. Three of our four seniors weren’t our stars, and they knew that, and they absolutely killed their roles this year. They got better every single match, every single day at practice,” Rowland said. “We talked about how this season could’ve been really bad. There were a lot of changes. They lost six seniors who won more in the postseason than anyone else had. I think these seniors passed them on Tuesday, or tied them. With my mom (Kellie Rowland) giving up this program after 22 years of building it, this season could’ve been bad.”