New coach has Bucks off to fast start

Published 9:38 pm Thursday, September 7, 2017

BUCHANAN — The Buchanan volleyball team beat visiting Comstock 3-1 in a BCS Conference match on Wednesday night.

The Bucks won 25-10, 21-25, 25-18 and 25-19.

First-year Buchanan coach Shelly Bender has her inexperienced Bucks team sitting at 10-6 after the victory and still improving.

“To me it’s really cool to see this team grow every single game,” Bender said. “Things we did today, we didn’t do last week.”

Bender, a 2002 Buchanan alumna, took over a team that graduated seven players, most of them four-year varsity players, and finished the season with a 49-7 record and a trip to the final four of the state tournament.

This years’ squad returns just three players from last season’s tournament team, and only

one with any significant playing time, so most people consider this a rebuilding year.

“I think this is a rebuilding team, but only because I don’t think we came in with any confidence that we could be good,” Bender said. “These girls have watched those seven girls dominate for the last four years and I don’t think they have ever felt like they could live up to them and what they left.”

The 2017 Bucks have five seniors on the roster, and two juniors, but a lot of people refer to them as a young team because of the lack of varsity game experience.

“My main focus was building the team from day one,” Bender said. “We can’t do anything unless we are a team, and I needed them to trust me. They’ve seen me on the sidelines, and as an assistant, but they’ve never really seen me take charge. So, I think just rebuilding their confidence in themselves and trying to be a better athlete with better skills has been super important.”

Despite the growing pains that a rebuilding team goes through, the Bucks were still ranked No. 8 in the most recent Class B state poll.

“I’m really proud of them. I think they’ve come a long way,” Bender said. “It will be interesting to see where they end up. I don’t really care where we are right now (state ranking) I want us to continue to grow and I care where we are at the end. If we are winning and we are playing well, that’s more important to me than where we are ranked.

“I feel like we’ve come a long way. I think we first came on the court as six individuals playing six different spots. But I feel like now we are starting to work together, more as a team. This team is really special to me, and they are playing for Buchanan, not for themselves, not for individuals, and I don’t think that has happened for a while.”

Buchanan will next play on Saturday in a tournament where they will be matched up with Vicksburg, Battle Creek Harper Creek and defending Class C state champion Bronson.

Brandywine volleyball

The Brandywine volleyball team improved to 5-2 overall as it opened up BCS Athletic Conference action with a sweep of Berrien Springs Wednesday.

The Bobcats defeated the Shamrocks 25-17, 25-10 and 25-21.

Olivia Thomas had 20 kills, two blocks and three aces, while Bethany Duval finished with six kills and three aces.

Audrey Longley had 35 assists and three aces for the Bobcats, who also got 12 digs from Kristen Alvord.

Niles volleyball

KALAMAZOO — Visiting Niles dropped its SMAC match against Kalamazoo Central in five sets Wednesday night.

The Vikings (9-4) were defeated 16-25, 25-22, 24-26, 25-21 and 15-12.

“Kalamazoo Central always has very good athletes and players and we always know we are in for a good match when we face them,” Niles coach Jenny Nate said. “They had a strong block, and offensively, we had to work hard to break through and control the runs. It was a back and forth match, and we have to keep working on our mental game and be able to bounce right back when things don’t go our way.”

Bella Rasler led the Vikings with 27 kills to go along with 20 digs and an ace.

Carly Barton finished with 49 assists, 16 points and two aces, while Abbie Harpenau had five kills and four blocks.