Photos by Zach Zweigle | CatchMark
MUSKEGON — After flying through last week’s district having dropped only one game, the senior-led Whitehall volleyball team felt as though it was ready to keep it rolling in regional play.
Despite a strong start and noble effort, the Vikings fell to powerhouse Grand Rapids Christian in a Division 2 regional semifinal for the second-straight season. Christian defeated Whitehall, 25-22, 25-12, 25-20, Tuesday at Orchard View High School.
Whitehall closes a memorable season with a 33-7-1 overall record. Three-time defending state champ Grand Rapids Christian advances to Thursday’s 7 p.m. regional final against Hudsonville Unity Christian, which swept Newaygo in the other regional semifinal Tuesday.
“We did everything we planned to do and we had our chances,” Whitehall coach Ted Edsall said. “All in all, (the Vikings played) way better than last year and we were in every game.”
Last year, Whitehall took on Grand Rapids Christian while Vikings standout Rayne Thompson sat on the bench with a knee injury that wiped out her entire season. The dominant outside hitter battled her way back from the injury and she enjoyed a big senior season.
Thompson was a difference-maker Tuesday, but the Eagles’ size and ability to attack and block at the net were too much for the Vikings to overcome.
Thompson finished with 21 kills on 60 attacks, followed by senior Charley Klint with seven on 35 attempts. Senior Maggie Evans had 29 assists.
Defensively, senior Ryleigh Mott totaled 20 digs, while Thompson had 17. Freshman Sidney Shepherd had two blocks.
In the first game, Whitehall had opportunities to jump out to an early lead, but Christian’s power duo at the net was a little too much for the Vikings to handle. Seniors Kate Breems and Evie Doezema demonstrated their unbelievable blocking tact, making it difficult for Whitehall’s offense to find its groove.
Edsall was proud of his team’s attacking efforts as the Vikings managed to put up decent numbers against the Eagles, specifically in the first and third games.
“This is Whitehall volleyball — we don’t have a kid over 5-9,” he said. “We are a public school and I think we did pretty darn good.”
After the second game got away from Whitehall, the Vikings fought hard to continue their season in a back-and-forth final set that came down to the wire.
The stellar blocking and powerful kills from the second-ranked Eagles propelled them to the victory and ended the Vikings’ season in the regional semifinals for the second year in a row.
“We win that first game, who knows,” Edsall said. “Their block was kind of like Western Michigan Christian’s, but probably a little better. I don’t know if we could have played a whole lot better under the circumstances.”
Two of Whitehall’s losses this season came against Division 3 top-ranked Western Michigan Christian, which will play for a regional title on Thursday. One of the Vikings’ defeats against the Warriors came in a classic five-setter in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament finals.
Whitehall accomplished a great deal this season. The Vikings rolled through the West Michigan Conference regular season and tournament en route to capturing the title. They dominated last week’s district at Spring Lake, and they did not back down from any challenge faced this season.
Much like last year, Whitehall was forced to go forward without a key player because of injury. Promising sophomore Arianna Black suffered a knee injury early in the season, and the Vikings could have used her length and athletic ability.
In back-to-back regional matchups against an opponent as strong as Grand Rapids Christian, Whitehall could have used its full roster.
“Two years a in row where we had a major kid get hurt and still managed to survive and get this far,” Edsall said. “Couldn’t ask any more from these kids. Great season.”
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