Vikings fall to No. 3-ranked Portage Central

Published 10:06 pm Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Niles’ Kelsey Barton picks up one of her 15 assists against No. 3-ranked Portage Central Wednesday night. (Leader photo/JOSEPH WEISER)

Niles’ Kelsey Barton picks up one of her 15 assists against No. 3-ranked Portage Central Wednesday night. (Leader photo/JOSEPH WEISER)

It was a night of celebration and learning for the Niles volleyball team Wednesday against Portage Central.

Before the match, Viking seniors Margaret Hoff, Olivia Jordan, Kierra Fillwock, Miranda Baker and Lashonda Greene were honored in their last home contest.

After the ceremony, the third-ranked (Class A) Mustangs provided a blueprint to Niles on what it takes to be an elite high school volleyball team.

Portage Central improved to 30-7 overall and 8-0 in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West Division with its 25-21, 25-13, 25-11 win over Niles.

“(Portage Central) did live up to their ranking,” said Niles coach Jenny Nate, whose team fell to 18-10-6 overall and 5-3 in the SMAC West Division. “We expected it. After this match I told the girls that we’ve got a lot of season left. There’s no better preparation we could have going into districts than playing these teams. We’re in a Grand Rapids Christian Tournament in a couple of weeks and we’ll play Battle Creek St. Phil so the good news is that playing these powerhouses is going to help us get it done in the end.”

Portage Central jumped out to big leads in all three games. Niles was able to rally in game one after falling behind, 10-1. The Vikings took leads of 15-13 and 19-18 before watching the Mustangs come back and win the game.

“The fact that we made that big run (in game one) and made that comeback I really thought we were really good going into the second and third sets,” Nate said. “There was a lot of emotion on our court, but that’s no excuse. Portage Central is solid. They’re third (ranked) for a reason. We were a step slow. It took us awhile to adjust to the block on a couple of their hitters. Their setter is phenomenal.”

Niles had to contend with a balanced Portage Central offense. Devin Jaqua and Mel Lundin each had eight kills for the visitors. Jenna VanZoeren added seven and Hannah Gehrke had five.

“I thought we played really well,” said Portage Central coach Dawn Jaqua. “I thought we did a nice job of setting the tempo and maintaining that throughout the match with very few ups and downs. Niles super athletic and it was important to jump on them right away.”

The Vikings led only twice at 1-0 and 2-1 over the final two games. Portage Central clinched game two on a kill from Gehrke and clinched game three on a kill from Madison Jaqua.

“We made some errors,” Nate said. “Our passes were off in the second set. Our girls know what they need to do. Now, we have to spend the next two weeks moving forward.”

Greene had seven kills and Baker added six to lead the Vikings offensively.

“The seniors and other players are sad that this is the way it ended on our home court,” Nate said. “But, I feel real good about the team hug we just had and the discussion on what we need to do for the upcoming two weeks. Nobody was down. The girls are ready to move on and win some games.”


Portage Central d. Niles 25-21, 25-13, 25-11

Kills: Devin Jaqua (P) 8, Mel Lundin (P) 8, Jenna VanZoeren (P) 7, Hannah Gehrke (P) 5, Allie Harning (P) 4, Lashonda Greene (N) 7, Miranda Baker (N) 6

Blocks: VanZoeren (P) 5, Harning (P) 3, Baker (N) 5, Jazmin Brann (N) 3

Aces: Kaylee Dando (P) 2

Assists: Kelsey Barton (N) 15

Digs: Kaylee Dando (P) 8, Devin Jaqua (P) 4, Julia Rauch (P) 4, Margaret Hoff (N) 7, Courtney Dixon (N) 3