by Eva Dean Folkert
If anyone walked out of DeVos Fieldhouse on Friday night with a regular heart rate, then bless 'em.
Because to remain calm during the frenetic sectional semifinal game that unfolded between fourth-ranked Hope College and 18th-ranked Christopher Newport University in the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship would have required super-cool nerves and a super-strong heart.
But come to think of it, that is exactly what the Flying Dutch possessed during their thrilling 68-64 win over the Captains, even if 2,514 fans in attendance did not.
Now Hope (29-1) is moving onto the sectional final for the first time since 2013 and the eighth time in team history. They'll face third-ranked Thomas More College (29-1), a 75-67 winner over Gustavus Adolphus College in the sectional's other semifinal game.
Tipoff between Hope and Thomas More on Saturday, March 10 is at 7:00 p.m. The winner moves onto the final four in Rochester, Minnesota next weekend.
Photo of Lauren Newman by Lynne Powe
It was a rough first half for Hope with little flow, missed free throws, fewer rebounds (minus 10 on the boards) and only nine points in the second quarter. CNU jumped out to a 7-0 lead in less than a minute to start the contest and their full-court press and amoeba zone created up-tempo chaos for Hope. In fact, that's the official name of CNU's defense — Captains' Chaos, ranked third in Division III in forcing turnovers (30.4/game) and creating team steals (18.2/game).
Point guard Lauren Newman of Flushing, Michigan (Flushing HS), pictured, got the yeo-woman's load of handling much of that chaos. The freshman was not on the Flying Dutch team last year when Hope lost, 79-74, to the Captains, also in the NCAA sectional semifinal, so she had not experienced CNU's pressure before. But she had heard enough about it to know that it was going to take another level of her normal pluck and grit to break the press and distribute the ball.
It took her one half to figure it out. But it was a half that saw the Flying Dutch trailing the Captains by 11 points, down 38-27 at intermission.
"From the start we struggled a little bit, but I think that was because we haven't faced many teams that, first of all, press, and, second of all, press that well and really challenge our ball handling and our passes," said Newman. "So I think we really just had to feel it out and get used to it."
"I don't think I've ever seen a player get knocked to the floor that many times and keep getting back up," said head coach Brian Morehouse of Newman. "She is absolutely one of the toughest kids ever to pull on a Hope uniform. She proved it tonight."
The Flying Dutch slowly and aggressively closed the gap in the second half, with a good deal of help from Francesca Buchanan of Grant, Michigan (Sparta HS). The junior post player saw only three minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, but in the second half, Buchanan's rebounding and spin moves in the paint signaled a momentum shift as did the scoreboard.
"(Frankie) had a great second half, just a monstrous second half for us," Morehouse said. "And it made all the difference in the world. She was everywhere on the glass. She was putting in shots, she was making her free throws, and I was really proud of her poise and her maturity."
At the 1:01 mark in the third quarter, Hope took its first lead, 51-50, of the second half, a lead that CNU had a stronghold on for 18 minutes prior, when freshman Olivia Voskuil of Holland, Michigan (Holland Christian HS) sank two free throws.
New ball game.
The fourth quarter saw six ties and six lead changes as the two teams teeter-tottered their way through the next nine minutes. With 53 seconds to go in the game and the scored tied at 64 each, Buchanan would make another layup for a two-point Hope lead, 66-64.
A subsequent CNU 3-point miss and a Captain foul 27 seconds later put Kenedy Schoonveld of Zeeland, Michigan (Holland Christian HS) at the line with 18.5 seconds left in the game.
What was running through the freshman guard's mind before she took two free shots that would put the Flying Dutch up by three and then four?
"Honestly, I was trying not to think," admitted Schoonveld. "I think if I had a bunch of thoughts running through my head at the time, I would have totally missed. So I was like, 'Don't think, don't think, don't think. Just shoot like you normally shoot a free throw in practice every day.'"
So she did. Schoonveld made both and Hope held off more chaos at the end to win.
"We worked our butts off to come back and we persevered through everything," Buchanan declared. "It was just honestly a lot of hard work done by everybody. By our point guard (Newman) who was getting dogged the whole game. Like Mo said she had a tremendous game. I had sixteen points but this girl (Newman) crushed it and Kennedy crushed it. Literally, everybody on that court crushed it tonight."
"Forty-one points in the second half," summarized Morehouse, "I thought that was the key to the game."
Buchanan was the only Hope player in double figures (16) while senior Madison Geers of Scottville, Michigan (Mason Co. Central HS) scored nine points.
Though outrebounded by 10 in the first half, the Flying Dutch grabbed one more board for the game and finished with 38 rebounds to CNU's 37. Newman and Voskuil each grabbed a team-high seven rebounds. Voskuil also denied several Captains' shots with six blocks.
CNU was led by Makenzie Fancher with 16 points, Micah Maloney 14, and Bailey Dufrene 11. The Captains finish their season with a record of 25-5.
As for meeting Thomas More in the sectional final, an opponent out for revenge since Hope knocked the Saints out of last year's NCAA tournament, "It's going to be a great game tomorrow," Morehouse simply concluded.