Seven Seniors Leave Mark on Newaygo Volleyball
By Alexis Mercer
No summer camp. No weight room. No pre-season at all.
In fact, no first few weeks of the season really. Unless you count moveable volleyball nets that were set up on the football field where athletes were only allowed to handle one volleyball a piece that they didn’t share with anyone else.
Then finally word arrived that volleyball could begin practicing inside. With limitations. But it was inside. On the court.
Newaygo Lions Volleyball was forced to take the season in stride. Afterall, it is a pandemic and lives are at stake. The sports teams were only given one chance to do it right or face the very real possibility of no season at all.
So masks were worn. Distance was kept. But they were on the court and ready to play.
For the seven seniors on the team, this was their final chance to play the sport they have grown to love together. All but two of them, Rylee and Sydney Maat, who came from Rockford the summer before their junior year, had been playing for Coach Kristin Melvin for five years.
Kendall Mathis, an outside hitter for the Lions, says “playing for the same coach for five years was a blessing in disguise. Because we were together for so long, we really got to understand each other. There were times where we loved each other and (temporarily) times where we hated each other, but in the end I always knew she had my best interest at heart.”
Sydney Maat shared about coming in as a new student athlete her junior year was nerve wracking. “When my sister and I first came to Newaygo we were super nervous because we were joining a team that had been together for a while. But they welcomed us with open arms and we became part of the team so fast.”
2020 was a new year and everyone had been together for at least one season prior.
As the season progressed, the Lions started to play together in a way they hadn’t in seasons past. Leaders were stepping up and taking control.
And then Covid hit. The entire team was quarantined after having been exposed to a positive case. It meant two weeks out of school, away from friends and family, and out of volleyball.
It was a major blow but one that they dealt with together; despite the physical distance.
Coming back from their two week break with everyone healthy and anxious to be back to school, a routine and the court, was like a fresh start. A chance to continue the progress they had obviously made from last year.
That is when all the parts started falling into place. Facing rivals Grant, the Lions took them to five games and won. With only one day before playing another intense rival in Fremont, Coach Melvin kept them focused on what was to come rather than being complacent with their big win. The efforts paid off as they also went to five games and won.
“Last year it seemed hard for us to pull through and win games, but this year we won some five set games and even beat our biggest rivals! I am so proud of this team and every single person on it,” says Sydney Maat.
Tri County would be the final barrier between the Lions and sharing a conference championship with Central Montcalm and Fremont. The Vikings had proven worthy competitors against both Fremont and Grant but the Lions handled them easily in three games to earn the honor of sharing the trophy: something that hadn’t been done in 20 years in Newaygo.
A first round bye in Districts meant the Lions would face off against a tough Coopersville team. Going in, they knew Coopersville would be tough. Newaygo would be the underdog, but they were used to that.
Stepping on the court, it was obvious the Lions had come to play. Lily Ruehmeier blocked their power hitter and the belief started to show in their eyes. The first game went back and forth with neither team making runs too big. In the end the Broncos were able to put the ball down and won the first game 28-26.
The second game went similarly, except the Lions did have a run that put them up while the Broncos figured out a rotational error that threw them for a loop. But Coopersville had the wherewithal to pull it back together and find the way to win with their tough offense.
Newaygo didn’t have it in them to bring Coopersville to extra games. It would be the end of their season in three.
Despite the loss, the season was a success. The Newaygo Lions showed their maturity and drive every step of the way, led by Alexis Feutz, Rylee Maat, Sydney Maat, Kendall Mathis, Emma Reyburn, Lillian Ruehmeier, and Haleigh Schmidt, the seniors who helped grow the volleyball program stronger one day at a time.