Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
SPRING LAKE – Rayne Thompson claimed that the district title she helped Whitehall’s volleyball team earn Thursday night felt similar to last year’s when she watched from the bench with a knee injury.
The senior’s tearful embrace with her mother soon after Whitehall’s three-game sweep of Fruitport at Spring Lake High School suggested otherwise. On her 18th birthday, Thompson was overcome with emotion after the Vikings captured a second-straight Division 2 district title in the win over the Trojans, 25-12, 27-25, 25-14.
Whitehall (33-6-1), which was honorable mention in the latest Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association state rankings, will take on No. 2 Grand Rapids Christian (30-9) in a 5 p.m. regional semifinal Tuesday at Orchard View. Christian is the three-time defending Division 2 state champion and swept Whitehall in a regional semifinal last season.
“I mean, (this district title) doesn’t really feel different (than last year’s). I’m sweating – I think that’s one of (the differences),” Thompson said with a laugh, moments after she shed happy tears on the court with mother Annette Thompson. “Other than that, it feels great. It feels great to be out there with my team and win something once again.
“It’s something big for me and my mom and, like, this whole team. We pushed our butts to work hard this season and this is what our outcome was,” Thompson said. “We won the district title again, for the second year in a row, and it’s amazing.”
Thompson, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter and four-year varsity player, suffered a torn ACL in the preseason last year. She sat out the entire 2020 season but supported her team from the bench, including when unranked Whitehall stunned No. 7 Montague in the district final at Oakridge.
Fast forward to Thursday, and things were different for Thompson and her team. The Vikings were expected to win the district this time. They came through with a four-game victory over host Spring Lake in front of a raucous Lakers student section Wednesday, then one night later fended off Fruitport, which closes with a 24-20 record.
Whitehall has been on a mission this season, despite the loss of injured sophomore and key contributor Arianna Black. The Vikings steamrolled through the West Michigan Conference regular season and tournament en route to the outright title. They advanced to the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association Tier 1 finals before dropping a classic five-setter to Division 3 top-ranked Western Michigan Christian.
It’s been a team effort in many respects by the Vikings and that showed itself again Thursday, although Thompson is the undisputed leader. She racked up 32 kills in three games, which coach Ted Edsall called “phenomenal.”
Seniors have set the tone for Whitehall all season and that happened again in the district finals. Senior Maggie Evans totaled 41 assists and three aces, senior Ryleigh Mott totaled 15 digs and senior Charley Klint added six kills. Freshman Sidney Shepherd came up with three blocks.
“These seniors have been with me at least three (years); Rayne’s been with me four years. I’ve known them since they were fourth- and fifth-graders,” said Edsall, who is in his 35th season at the helm. “They put in a lot of time, they played club, they’re invested and here’s the deal: They’re great, great kids.
“They care about each other, they care about the program, and they deserve it because they’ve worked so hard.”
Fruitport coach Nicole Bayle feels strongly about her players, too. The Trojans definitely showed a lot of fight in the second game, building a lead as large as seven points before the Vikings came storming back to take the set.
Junior Raegan Dykstra led Fruitport with 16 assists and six digs. Senior Kylie Rudolph had 10 digs and six kills, while senior Sydney Woods and freshman Sadie Haase added five and four kills, respectively.
“We had a mantra this year and we really stuck to it. We’re going to compete our butts off, we’re going to beat the teams we’re supposed to beat, and we’re going to do our best to not lose to the teams that are better than us and tonight Whitehall was better than us,” said Bayle, who mentioned a handful of Vikings players but highlighted the play of Thompson.
“Rayne’s a great player, and any time you have a special kid like that on your team, they can change the outcome of close matches and I think you saw that happen in set two when we were up. We knew we were going to have to try and stop her and they were just in a spot where we could not do that.”
The script likely will be flipped when Whitehall faces Grand Rapids Christian next week: The Vikings will be the underdogs.
They respect the Eagles, but the Vikings are the type of team to back down.
Whitehall has played a tough schedule, helping to build the Vikings for moments like these.
“We’re just going to practice really hard and going into it being humble and ready to play our absolute best,” Mott said.
Added Edsall: “We’re not afraid. We played them last year, and it was an interesting experience. It was at their place and now we go to Orchard View, which is a little better site for us. We’ve got a couple studs, you know, and we’ve been there. I’m sure they’ll overlook us, but we’re going to show up.”
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