Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
NORTON SHORES – Shelby’s volleyball program is climbing again.
The Tigers’ season ended in a hard-fought Division 3 regional semifinal loss to Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, 20-25, 25-23, 26-24, 25-19, Tuesday at Western Michigan Christian High School.
But with a player like 6-foot-1 freshman outside hitter Navea Gauthier, who is already being heavily recruited by big-time Division I volleyball programs, the future looks extremely bright.
Shelby closes the season with a 36-10-1 record. That’s a major improvement from three years ago, when the Tigers won only five matches. They climbed to 12 victories in 2019 and 18 in 2020.
NorthPointe (21-7) will face top-ranked Western Michigan Christian (47-5) in Thursday’s 7 p.m. regional final. WMC defeated Morley Stanwood in four games in the night’s second regional semifinal.
“We’ve got some young kids on our team, we’ve got some great senior leadership with Kendall (Zoulek) and Daphne (Clark) and Ella (Olmstead) there, they all put so much time into the program,” said Shelby coach Tom Weirich, who completed his 18th season at the helm.
“When you walk in the locker room and you see the tears and you see the emotion, I feel like we did something right just because of that – because they care. If I go in there and they’ve already got their radio playing, then I feel like we missed something. They were emotionally bought into the season.”
After Shelby took the first set against NorthPointe Christian, the teams played two games that could have gone either way.
The Mustangs closed it out in the fourth set, but not without the Tigers giving what they had.
Zoulek said that Shelby could have communicated on the floor better. Perhaps that could have swung the outcome.
“I’m very proud of my team. We worked hard, we pushed, we were hard-working – very, very proud of my team even though it’s sad and kind of disappointing that we lost, but we worked hard,” a red-eyed Zoulek said after leaving an emotional locker room.
“It was tough. A lot of crying, a lot of tears and just looking at other people makes me want to cry even more, so it was tough.”
Gauthier racked up 26 kills, 13 digs, three blocks and two aces to lead Shelby, which finished third in the West Michigan Conference behind longtime powers Whitehall and North Muskegon. Zoulek had nine kills and 19 digs, while Clark contributed 34 assists and 17 digs. Olmstead added three kills and three blocks.
For NorthPointe Christian, junior Breanna Tubergen and senior Faith Berends led the way with 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Junior Leah Verplank and senior Tori Kik finished with 21 and 15 assists, in that order. Senior Grace Blickley totaled 25 digs for the Mustangs, who won the OK Silver Conference championship this season.
“I think it was probably just our ball control and staying consistent and limiting our errors (that made the difference),” NorthPointe Christian first-year coach Libby Grotenhuis said. “We were just able to keep our cool and keep our calm. That’s been something that our team has been really great at.
“We’ve had some big comebacks, so even when things are tight, we’ve been able to finish and that mental toughness has been something that’s really worked out well for us.”
Weirich was impressed with NorthPointe’s team. He believes the Mustangs capitalized in their serving and were able to take advantage there. He said the Tigers were “out of system a bunch” and couldn’t get the ball to their hitters the way they wanted.
Weirich was proud of his squad, however, with the way it battled to the last point. He would like the chance to play NorthPointe Christian again – not because he thinks Shelby is better, but because the Tigers were hoping to put their best foot forward.
While the Tigers’ seniors leave their legacy, the young players will look to continue building upon the foundation set by this team.
Gauthier is one heck of a building block.
“Officials ask me all the time, ‘Is she a junior or a senior?’ I’m like, ‘She’s a freshman.’ And then (they ask), ‘Does she have any colleges looking at her yet?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, well, all of them,’” Weirich said with a grin. “All of them are looking at her.
“She came to the team with more experience than anybody on the team. She plays club and just puts in time outside of the season more than anybody. I’m happy for her success. She kind of anchored the team this year and put our seniors in different roles than what they were used to, but it’s all justified.”
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