By MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Haven has done this before.
With a 25-19, 25-20, 25-15 win over Traverse City West on Tuesday at the Class A regional semifinal held at TC Central, the Buccaneers moved on to play for a regional title for the fifth time in seven years.
Winning the next match has been a different story.
"We've never gotten through," Grand Haven coach Aaron Smaka said. "We're at home on Thursday and we feel like we've got a really good opportunity. We'll go home and practice and do our best to get ready for that match."
The Buccaneers (43-16-1) will host Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central on Thursday for the regional title. The Rangers swept Hudsonville in the other Class A semifinal.
After a close first game on Tuesday, TC West (28-15-1) played tough for much of the second game. The game was tied 11 times, including a 17-17 standstill after Smaka had called time-out on the previous point. From there, the Buccaneers closed it out with eight of the final 11 points.
"I think we knew coming up here that Traverse City was a very resilient team and they play scrappy defense," Smaka said. "And both their middles are very solid players. So we knew it was going to be a lot of work tonight and they were going to fight us in their hometown. But I'm proud of my kids. I'm proud of how my kids fought and I don't think we played our best, but we found a way to get the job done."
Grand Haven took control from there. The Buccaneers jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the third game and took it to 20-10 before closing it out 25-15.
"We just weren't on tonight," Titans coach Emily Baumann said. "We made way too many errors, which is not like us. We hit the floor on defense, but we could not get our offense going. And that's what we're known for, our big offense."
Smaka said his team's size played a factor.
"We're tall," Smaka said. "We're a pretty big team. (TC West) sees blockers, but I don't know if they see that many of them at that size. Our blockers did a good job of knowing who their hitters were and where they had to go."
Abby Cole, a Miss Volleyball finalist headed to the University of Michigan, led Grand Haven with 11 kills and six blocks. Krysteena Davis had 13 kills and four blocks, Marisa Ejups had nine kills and nine digs, Jami Hogeboom had 35 assists and Andrea Smith had 10 digs.
For the Titans, Baumann's first year back with the program came to a close with the loss.
"It's a good season, you always want to go further," Baumann said. "But good season. It's great to be back. They know how to compete. We have six seniors, but on the court there's usually just two seniors out there at a time. So we have two juniors and the rest are just sophomores. It's quite a young group."
Sophomore Katie Placek had nine kills, seven digs and 3.5 blocks while senior Courtney VanHouzen had eight kills and six digs. Junior hitter Anna O'Hara had nine kills while sophomore setter Mattison Mokanyk had 25 assists.