The Miracle on Eighth Street

This article appeared in the April, 1990 issue of news from Hope College to commemorate the national championship season of the Flying Dutch.

A scriptwriter could not have outlined a better plot.

It was dubbed by sportswriters as "The Miracle on Eighth Street."

Journalists with a penchant toward analogy noted that the "Wonderful World of Disney is not in California, or Florida, but in Holland, Michigan."

What you had was national championship won by the Hope College women's basketball team before a delirious home crowd in dramatic come-from-behind fashion on free throws by a player with a Hollywood name.

Hope's first-ever NCAA Division III national team championship capped a storybook season under a first-year coach whose squad had not even been picked to win their conference.

The first national team athletic championship in Hope College was achieved without traveling more than a mile from campus.

One-by-one, teams from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kentucky, and finally New York, ventured to the land of the Dutch where they succumbed to a spirited Hope women's basketball team.

After winning the school's first-ever MIAA conference championship, the Flying Dutch were invited to host the four-team NCAA Division III Great Lakes regional tournament. This represented a major challenge because the Dow Center on the Hope campus is not equipped as a spectator facility. "Imaginative" seating arrangements, including chairs on the upper-level running track, provided more than 800 fans an opportunity to watch the Flying Dutch defeat St. Benedict, Minn., 73-60, and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 68-67.

It was back to the Dow Center a week later for the quarterfinal action against Buena Vista, Iowa. Seating was increased to serve more than 1,100 fans who witnessed Hope's come-from-behind 85- 79 overtime victory.

And then came the Final Four tournament. "We'd like Hope College to host," advised the NCAA.

With only a week for planning, but with plenty of support from the community, the Division III championship tournament was held at the Holland Civic Center. Even though Hope students were on spring break, the legendary basketball palace was packed with fans. And coach Sue Wise's Flying Dutch did not disappoint anyone.

The stage was set for the national championship game with a semi-final victory over Centre, Ky., 75-62. Top-ranked St. John Fisher, N.Y. provided the opposition. Could this team of Flying Dutch miracle workers meet the challenge once again?

The teams were tied 32-32 early in the second half when the roof appeared to cave-in on the Flying Dutch. The New Yorkers scored 20 unanswered points over a seven minute period and were on their way to national glory.

But someone forgot to tell coach Sue Wise and her Flying Dutch that you don't rally from huge deficits in a national championship game. Point-by-point, Hope whittled away at the lead until Dina Disney's three-point basket tied the score with only 13 seconds remaining to play.

St. John Fisher worked the clock for the final shot, but the Lady Cardinals were called for an offensive foul. It was Hope's ball with five seconds left.

That's when the miracle-of-miracles occurred. Hope's inbound pass was intercepted by a St. John Fisher player, but just as quickly it was flicked loose by Hope junior Lissa Nienhuis. In the mad scramble for the ball Disney was fouled, but there was no time left on the scoreboard clock. After several arduous minutes, the referees ruled that Disney had been fouled before the buzzer sounded.

The senior guard with the Hollywood name, tears from her eyes, sank both free throws and Hope had its first national team championship, 65-63.

Not bad for a quintet which never left that dear old town of Holland, Michigan.

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