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State-ranked Whitehall volleyball team passes tough test from Oakridge

Vikings trying to adjust to life without 6-foot middle Arianna Black, who injured her knee a couple weeks ago.

Whitehall’s Rayne Thompson, right, Isabella Fogus, middle, and Maggie Evans, left, celebrate a point during a volleyball match against Oakridge Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at Whitehall High School in Whitehall, Mich. Whitehall defeated Oakridge, 22-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-21. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

WHITEHALL – Whitehall’s volleyball team has picked up several impressive wins this season en route to a No. 8 ranking in the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association Division 2 poll.

Oakridge is not among the state’s elite, but on Tuesday the Eagles made the Vikings work for everything.

Whitehall pulled out a tough four-set victory over visiting Oakridge to improve to 14-2 overall and 4-0 in the West Michigan Conference. The Eagles (5-10, 2-2) took the first set, 25-22, before the Vikings claimed competitive sets the rest of the way, 25-23, 25-19, 25-21.

“Our first contact today was unusually poor. We made a ton of errors – we had, I think, 13 service errors and 15 attack errors, that’s just not like us,” Whitehall coach Ted Edsall said. “If we do that, and (Oakridge) played well, we can lose to anybody. Our margin for error is gone. We’ve just got to clean up a few things. We’re lucky to win today.”

Whitehall volleyball coach Ted Edsall smiles as he heads toward the bench during a match against Oakridge Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at Whitehall High School in Whitehall, Mich. Whitehall defeated Oakridge, 22-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-21. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

When Edsall alludes to the margin for error being gone, he’s referring to the loss of 6-foot sophomore middle Arianna Black, who injured her knee during warmups prior to a match against Hart on Aug. 31.

Black has been lost for the season, as Edsall said she is underdoing surgery.

Whitehall beat Hart that night with five players, but the Vikings know they’re going to have to adapt in order to achieve their lofty goals.

“I mean, we’re just going to work with what we have right now,” Whitehall senior outside hitter Rayne Thompson said. “We’ve been going through so many rotations that we’re going to build and our seniors need to step up and get through the season.

“We’re going to go to states, which I know that, but we kind of have a little bumpy road that we’ve had.”

Tuesday’s match was a little bumpy for the Vikings, who committed 13 service errors and 15 attacking errors. On the flip side, Oakridge deserves credit for forcing some of the Whitehall miscues.

Oakridge volleyball coach Robert Rieger watches the action from near his bench during a match against Whitehall on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at Whitehall High School in Whitehall, Mich. Whitehall defeated Oakridge, 22-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-21. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Robert Rieger has taken over as the Eagles’ head coach after he’s served as an assistant for nine seasons. He fills the coaching void left by Kim Hanson, who stepped down this summer. He credits Edsall, a veteran head coach, for offering him various tips and philosophies.

Oakridge served at an 87.7 percent clip with seven aces. Haley Seewald was 21-of-21 in serves with three aces for the Eagles, while Brianna Benson was 13-of-15 with a trio of aces as well.

Saidee Raap totaled 10 kills for Oakridge, while Benson had nine kills. Brooklyn Galdeen and Andrew Romero added three kills apiece. Delaney Ruel tallied 28 assists.

“I think we did great. Our hitting wasn’t on as much as last week, but we defended well, we had several digs,” said Rieger, who also has coached middle school volleyball for several years. “The girls, they did well. They played tough.

“They took that first set against Whitehall and the second set they lost, but it was really close. We’re just moving around, kind of a young team. We only have three returning starters. I think they did a great job.”

Whitehall’s Charley Klint prepares to serve during a volleyball match against Oakridge Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at Whitehall High School in Whitehall, Mich. Whitehall defeated Oakridge, 22-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-21. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Whitehall was led by its senior trio of Thompson, Maggie Evans and Charley Klint.

Thompson finished with 24 kills and 10 digs, Evans totaled 45 assists, 13 digs, four aces and two blocks, and Klint contributed 14 kills, 13 digs and three aces.

Senior Ryleigh Mott notched 22 digs for Whitehall, while junior Chase Baker and freshman Sidney Shepherd had five apiece. Shepherd added two aces, while freshman Isabella Fogus had four kills.

“I’d feel better if that kid that just walked out of here wasn’t having knee surgery tomorrow,” Edsall said about Black. “We’re just a little disjointed now. We’re trying to figure things out and I’m playing two left-handed freshmen in the middle, which left-handed middles and left-handed freshmen (make it even more unusual). They actually did fine today.”

Whitehall’s notable wins have come against Cadillac, Coopersville, Mona Shores, Jenison, North Muskegon and Montague twice.

The Vikings suffered their defeats against Division 1 opponents Mona Shores and Traverse City West.

“We’ve got some good wins, but we’re a little different team now (without Black). We have to do things a little differently, so we cleaned things up,” Edsall said.

“We ask so much of Rayne – we set her everywhere. It’s a difficult job. It’s a lot of pressure on her. And our other outside, Charley Klint, we set those two almost all the time. It’s a tough job, but when they play well, we’re good.”

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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