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Western Michigan Christian outlasts Whitehall for first city volleyball title

GMAA Tier 1 finals match between Division 3 second-ranked Warriors and Division 2 honorable-mention Vikings was a five-set classic.

MUSKEGON — Throughout the last few seasons, Western Michigan Christian’s volleyball program has made continuous progress. The Warriors’ improving Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament placements in recent seasons have demonstrated just that.

In 2019, WMC lost in the semifinals of the annual tournament. Last year, the Warriors battled Montague but came up just short in the finals. On Saturday at Reeths-Puffer High School, they got over the hump. Western Michigan Christian edged Whitehall in a tough five-setter to capture the GMAA Tier 1 championship for the first time in school history.

WMC defeated Whitehall, 12-25, 28-26, 19-25, 25-19, 15-13.

“We have a trophy case with a lot of trophies, but it has none of these in it,” WMC coach Trent Smillie said about the GMAA hardware. “It’s going to be nice to put that one in there”

The Division 3 second-ranked Warriors (37-5) swept Oakridge and Reeths-Puffer in two-setters en route to the finals, where they met Whitehall (26-4-2), which is honorable mention in Division 2. The Vikings also breezed through the bracket with two-set sweeps of Montague and Mona Shores.

The championship match, structured in a best-of-five format, went the distance.

Photos by Zach Zweigle | CatchMark

The finals between Western Michigan Christian and Whitehall was a display of top talent on both sides of the net.

Whitehall jumped out to a quick start in the first game and won the set going away. Despite the slow start, WMC fought back in a second set that required 28 points to win.

The Vikings moved back in front with a third-set win, but the resilient Warriors knotted it up and seized the championship in a decisive fifth set that went right down to the wire. In the final set, neither team could increase the gap by more than one point until it was tied at 13, when WMC’s Abby Leffering and Libby Mast made back-to-back plays to secure the victory for the Warriors.

Camaraderie has been key to WMC’s success this season, according to Smillie.

“This year, we decided on no captains,” he said. “Thursday, we played at Covenant Christian and we had all 13 girls come to the captains meeting. They’re all the same and they all love each other and cheer for each other. We have a great group of kids.”

WMC’s presence at the net was the difference-maker against Whitehall. The Warriors averaged 5.83 blocks per set on the day, led by twins Maddie and Kyla Wiersema along with Libby Mast.

Maddie Wiersema broke WMC’s record for blocks in a match against Whitehall with an impressive 11. That feat, alongside contributions from Kyla Wiersema and Mast, resulted in a new Warriors season blocking record of 99.

“I think a normal average is one to two blocks per set for a normal team,” said Smillie, whose squad totaled 28 blocks against Whitehall. “Our blocking is not normal.

“Our setter was amazing today as well as our defenders. It was one of the best matches to watch this season anywhere. … The coaches could not be more proud of these girls today.”

It was also a big day for Kyla Wiersema, who reached the 1,000-kill milestone for her career. She’s now sitting at 1,009.

Despite the loss, the Vikings still tallied some noteworthy stats. Rayne Thompson totaled 75 kills on the day, followed by Charley Klint with 45. Maggie Evans notched 138 assists. Evans had six aces, Sidney Shepherd five and Klint four.

Defensively, Thompson registered 34 digs, followed closely by Ryleigh Mott with 30. Thompson and Shepherd both had seven blocks apiece.

Whitehall and Western Michigan Christian will host their respective conference tourneys next Saturday.

The GMAA Tier 1 tourney was originally scheduled to be hosted by Mona Shores, but it moved to Reeths-Puffer because of a power outage. Muskegon Catholic Central defeated Ravenna in the GMAA Tier 2 title match.

“My team played with unbelievable effort and passion today. That’s all any coach could ever ask for,” Whitehall coach Ted Edsall said.

“Congrats to WMC. I thought they were well-coached and played great.”

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

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