NORTON SHORES – Last year the Western Michigan Christian volleyball team had the best season in school history, posting a 49-6 record, winning their first Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament title and advancing to the state semifinals for the first time.
A lot of top players from that team graduated in the spring, including the powerful sister combination of Kyla and Maddie Wiersema.
The Warriors also lost their coach, Trent Smillie, who stepped aside after last season.
But one crucial component of that historic squad is back this season – senior setter Kendal Young – and she’s helping the Warriors maintain a nice level of success despite the heavy turnover in personnel.
The Warriors are off to a nice 12-9 start to their season while playing a challenging schedule. They may not be able to match the record of last year’s historic squad, but it’s still a pretty good record for a team with a bunch of new starters.
Young has a lot to do with that, providing leadership and organizing the offense.
“She is basically like my right-hand girl,” first-year WMC Coach Amber Sandin-Gontjes said about Young. “She leads the team really well and has taken on the challenge of helping us after losing a bunch of seniors.
“She has a very high volleyball IQ. She knows the game really well and because of that, she has great hands. Her sets are just beautiful and if she didn’t have the IQ like she does, we couldn’t be successful.”
After an incredible junior season, there isn’t much more that Young could accomplish on an individual basis this year.
Last year she broke the old school record of 51 assists in a match with 54 against Whitehall, then broke her own record with 57 assists in the district finals against North Muskegon.
Young also broke the Warriors’ single-season assist record of 1,311 in a regional semifinal victory over Morley-Stanwood last year, and ended the season 198 shy of the school career record of 2,747.
She has 407 assists so far this season, so that record is smashed.
So for Young, the big challenge in her final year is helping the new girls in the lineup play their best and live up to their potential, and she’s attaching that task with vigor.
“A lot of the girls don’t play outside of high school, so they are mostly high school skilled,” said Young, who plays club volleyball in the offseason. “I want to help them grow IQ wise. They’re very athletic overall and since we’ve started the season they’ve gotten so much better.”
Young said she’s had to adjust her game a bit this year and be more precise with her sets and passes.
“I think the biggest thing is when you have big hitters like last year, I didn’t have to be as specific with my balls and sets,” she said. “They were able to adjust super well. If the pass wasn’t super great, it was workable. I think this year I have to focus more on the small details when they were kind of irrelevant before. Now we have to really dive into them, and we’re doing a great job of it.”
With Young helping to guide the way, the Warriors have been developing new standouts like Abby Leffring, Ashley Folkema, Nora Anderson, Ella Hawke and others.
Under normal circumstances a team like WMC, with a mostly new starting lineup, could focus on smaller goals first, like conference championships. But WMC no longer has a conference, since the Lakes 8 broke up after last season, so the upcoming Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament, and the state tournament, will be the Warriors’ main opportunities to shine.
If they continue to improve, however, there’s no telling what they might be able to accomplish.
“It was going to be a big adjustment, mostly because a lot of the players I have starting didn’t play much last year,” Coach Sandin-Gontjes said. “But they’ve proven themselves and have blown out my expectations. Now my expectations are higher, and I expect us to go way farther than many probably expect us to.”
Regardless of what the team manages to accomplish this season, Young has a goal for her senior season.
“I want to honestly leave it all on the floor,” she said. “Last year was our big year and this year I’m just looking for great effort. That’s our big thing. If we’re going to go out with a loss, that’s fine, but we have to be putting everything out on the floor. I love the girls and I’ve had a great time with them, no matter where we end up.”