HEADLINE: GV stays perfect, sweeps way to Final Four

SUBHEAD: Soccer team, new Laker fans swing momentum in GV’s favor

By: Jay Bushen

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Kaitlyn Wolters and the Grand Valley State volleyball team found a way to bring their recent momentum and home-court advantage to the NCAA Division II quarterfinals.

Wolters led the way with a double-double on Thursday as GVSU swept its fourth straight tournament match with a win over Wingate (25-17, 25-21, 25-21) at Knights Hall on the campus of Bellarmine.

Prior to the match, hundreds of local students from nearby Carter Traditional Elementary School filled the second-level bleachers adjacent to the court. The GVSU soccer players, who were in attendance before their Final Four matchup, turned the group of youngsters into a Laker-friendly cheering section — and the volleyball team seemed to feed off the crowd noise early.

“Obviously it was a huge advantage to our part, having all these Grand Valley teams here at this fall festival,” said Wolters, who finished with 29 assists, 16 digs and seven kills. “We’re so lucky to have all their support at our game. It definitely made a difference, it felt more at home.”

The teams traded errors to begin the first set tied 2-2 before Wolters set up her twin sister, Kourtney, for the first kill of the quarterfinal round to spark an early 3-0 run. The Wolters-to-Wolters connection struck again shortly thereafter to make it 6-3 — and the Lakers never looked back.

“That’s the best team we’ve played all season,” said Wingate coach Shelton Collier, whose Bulldogs finished 34-3. “They were really, really good. We expected them to be really good, and we were hoping to fight and maybe make something happen today, but credit to them. They’re a very good team and they imposed that on us and did some things that were problematic for us.”

GVSU never trailed in the match.

Wingate strung together a few impressive runs — like a 6-0 rally in the second set that tied the score 21-21 — but never pulled ahead. GVSU’s defensive play had a lot to do with it.

The Lakers, who finished with 11 blocks as a team, limited Wingate to a .073 hitting-percentage clip in the match. The Bulldogs had previously outhit their opponent in all 36 contests.

Offensively, outside hitter Abby Aiken came up big for GVSU. The senior leader finished with a match-high 13 kills, adding 13 digs and two service aces.

“It’s all six of us on the court that can do that,” said Aiken, who supplied six kills in the second set. “That’s one of the things other teams might not have — having six players that can play.”

Betsy Ronda came up with nine kills, nine digs and four block assists in the win, while Kourtney Wolters turned in six kills, six digs and three solo blocks at key moments.

“I love when she makes those plays, it makes me happy,” Kaitlyn Wolters said. “She definitely was a blocking machine out there, that was her strong suit in the game. She came in clutch.”

GVSU clashes with Southwest Minnesota State in its first Final Four matchup since 2008 on Friday at 3 p.m. The Lakers beat SMSU 3-1 in Allendale when the teams last met in 2013.