By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
BATTLE CREEK – The East Grand Rapids High School trophy case is so full, it’s reserved for awards celebrating only those teams that win MHSAA championships.
There are more than 120 trophies already in the case. And the Pioneers’ volleyball team finally can claim a spot among them.
In what was nearly the closest a three-set match could go, East Grand Rapids claimed its first MHSAA title by edging Bloomfield Hills Marian 25-22, 25-22, 25-20 in the Class A Final on Saturday at Kellogg Arena.
The Pioneers twice had made MHSAA Semifinals – in Class B in both 2010 and 2011 – and then last season, when seemingly on the verge, moved into Class A. But instead of being disappointed, East Grand Rapids relished the new opportunity.
“Moving to Class A, a lot of people didn’t expect a lot from us. A lot of people took the scary, ‘Oooohh, you’re going to Class A.’ But we didn’t take it as scary at all. We embraced it,” Pioneers outside hitter Caroline Knooihuizen said.
“Knowing we were even going to states, we had made history. But the job wasn’t done yet. ... It’s just crazy knowing we added on to our state championships at our school. It wasn’t any other trophy; it was our first volleyball championship.”
East Grand Rapids entered the tournament ranked No. 8 in Class A and finished 50-5-3. The Pioneers beat No. 4 Rockford and No. 6 Northville on the way to Saturday before surviving repeated challenges from No. 3 Marian, which finished 50-16 after advancing to its first championship game since 2010.
Coach Christine Grunewald also improved her career record this weekend to 351-60-4, and had plenty of experience to draw upon in bringing the Pioneers back to Battle Creek – she not only coached the second of those Semifinal teams but Lakewood’s winter 2007 semifinalist as well.
And it couldn't have hurt that East Grand Rapids had faced, and swept, Marian in a tournament match this fall.
“I think this whole year has been a little bit different in our approach. We’re really focusing on controlling the volleyball when it’s on our side of the net, becoming really skilled at the out-of-system ball ... and I think we did a really good job this year on doing that,” Grunewald said.
“We wanted to be the best defensive team in the state, and I think we are, and I think we’ve proven that. We have a few big girls, but the rest of us are just scrappy. That was one of our goals, to be the best defensive team and wear those other big teams out.”
Aside from the first point in the first set, East Grand Rapids never trailed in that game or the third. The Pioneers did get down five points midway through the second set before outscoring Marian 10-4 to turn the game’s direction in their favor.
It’s no coincidence the team’s three statistical leaders were seniors. Knooihuizen led East Grand Rapids with 15 kills to go with nine digs, and Miss Volleyball finalist Maeve McDonald had 27 assists, eight kills, 13 digs and three blocks. Senior Jordan Clappison added nine kills. Together, they kept the ship steady.
“They stayed in the moment. They didn’t get ahead of themselves,” Grunewald said. “And when we needed some big plays from other players, they did it. And I just can’t believe we’re here in three.”
The Mustangs also were keyed by their set of experienced leaders – senior hitter Jessie Kopmeyer had 10 kills and seven digs and senior hitter Paige Carey added seven kills.
But they were two of only four seniors, and the majority of the team’s other top contributors Saturday should be back in 2014 – including junior setter Meghan Cotant (26 assists, 11 digs), junior hitter Alannah Barash (seven kills, seven digs) and sophomore libero Delaney Backonen (18 digs).
PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids players celebrate their first MHSAA volleyball championship at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Marian’s Alannah Barash prepares to smash a potential kill Saturday. (Below) East Grand Rapids libero Jamie Wolffis connects on one of her 14 digs in the Final.
Sarah Bradley ♦ Clarkston Everest Collegiate
Junior ♦ Volleyball
The 6-0 outside hitter had 31 kills – tied for sixth-most in an MHSAA Final – with a .419 hitting percentage and 18 digs as Everest Collegiate came back from a two-set deficit to defeat No. 4-ranked Leland in five in Saturday’s Division 4 championship match at Kellogg Arena. The first Finals title in program history capped a tournament run that saw the Mountaineers also win their first Regional title. Everest entered the postseason ranked No. 10 in Division 4 and finished 32-4-2.
Bradley finished the season with 420 kills, adding 15 in a Quarterfinal win over No. 6 Marlette and 25 in a five-set Semifinal victory over top-ranked Adrian Lenawee Christian during which Everest also came back after losing the first two sets. Bradley was named to the Division 4 all-state first team after earning an honorable mention as a sophomore. She also plays basketball, softball and soccer for the Mountaineers and is interested in pursuing a career in the medical field as she begins contemplating her college possibilities.
Follow the MHSAA on TikTok.
MHSAA.com's "Performance of the Week" features are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
Past 2023-24 Honorees
Nov. 17: Kalieb Osborne, Waterford Mott football - Report
Nov. 10: Tekalegn Vlasma, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3: Colton Kinnie, Birmingham Seaholm football - Report
Oct. 27: Lauren Timpf, Macomb Lutheran North golf - Report
Oct. 20: Alena Li, Okemos golf - Report
Oct. 13: Seth Norder, Grand Haven cross country - Report
Oct. 5: Paige Anderson, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer golf - Report
Sept. 29: MacKenzie Bisballe, Lake City volleyball - Report
Sept. 22: Jhace Massey, Gladwin football - Report
Sept. 15: Kaylee Draper, Sturgis swimming - Report
Sept. 8: Owen Jackson, Traverse City St. Francis tennis - Report
Sept. 1: Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report
(Photos courtesy of the Clarkston Everest Collegiate athletic department.)