Column: Niles volleyball shows everyone what it is made of

Published 3:54 pm Wednesday, November 17, 2021

BYRON CENTER — There is nothing more bittersweet in sports than when a season comes to an end.

That is because only one team in each division gets to leave the court celebrating. The other teams all head to the locker room or out to the bus with the tracks of their tears still fresh on their faces.

There are no moral victories in sports when you reach the level that the Niles volleyball team did Tuesday night. There is no way to soothe the pain it felt after being defeated by the three-time defending state champions and No. 1-ranked Grand Rapids Christian Eagles in three sets in the Division 2 Quarterfinals.

But there is nothing to be ashamed of either. The Vikings that made the hour-plus trip to Bryon Center to play the state’s best team at Grand Rapids South Christian High School certainly let the Eagles know they came to play. They were not there to be a sacrificial lamb for them to carve up on their way to perhaps another state title.

Despite the obvious crowd advantage Christian had because it only had to drive a few minutes out of South Christian, Niles did not waste any time letting the Eagles know they meant business.

Niles raced out to a 7-2 advantage in the opening set. They did it by blocking 6-foot-3, Michigan State University-bound senior Evelyn Doezema. They did it by attacking Christian from the middle and the outsides.

Unfortunately for the Vikings, they could not keep up the blistering pace they set early on. The Eagles tied the match at 12-12 and went on to win the first set 25-18. Niles had no answers for the Christian servers in the second set and lost quickly, 25-4.

Most teams would have rolled over and put their tails between their legs, letting Christian blow them out in the third set. That is now how Niles plays the game.

The Vikings bowed their backs, got a bit of their early-match swagger back and took it to the Eagles one last time. They forced Christian into using both of their timeouts. They forced them to work as hard as it had worked at any point in the match.

Niles proved it belongs on the same court as the defending champions. The Vikings proved that they deserved everything they earned this season. They earned it with hard work, work that started months ago. They earned it by playing with confidence and energy. They earned it by not coming apart after the second set and heading home wondering, “what if?”

Instead, Niles got back on the charter bus and headed home, wondering how it could get better and improve enough to be the team moving on next season instead of the one wrapping up a spectacular season? The “what if?” now becomes the “how can we?” as they head into the offseason.

I have enjoyed following this team on its journey from Wolverine Conference champion in their inaugural season in the league to Division 2 District and Regional champions. It was my pleasure to make the drive up to Byron Center to watch them play one of the best volleyball teams I have ever seen.

Niles is truly a team. This group of young ladies loves each other like sisters. They love their coaches, who, in turn, would do just about anything for them. They love their school and their community and have represented both extremely well on this journey.

You can also tell that the community loves them as well. Niles turned out in big numbers despite traveling nearly 90 minutes to get to Byron Center and cheer their hometown heroes right up until the final point was put on the scoreboard.

Tuesday night proved once again what high school sports is all about. Two great teams, battling it out for a chance to move on and complete their dream of winning a state championship. They brought their classmates, families, and communities along for the right.

It just does not get any better than that.

 

Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at scott.novak@leaderpub.com.