Start with a fearless setter driven to find an open hitter on the volleyball court. Add a versatile group of hitters who can interchange positions throughout a match, and you have what the Hope College volleyball team see as a winning formula for the 2017 season.
Coach Becky Schmidt's nationally ranked Flying Dutch are building a diverse scheme aimed to keep opponents off balance this season.
Senior Sophie Hackett of Indianapolis, Indiana (Brebeuf Jesuit Prep HS) will be in the middle of all the action. The returning All-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association setter returns after directing the Flying Dutch to a 25-6 overall record in her first season as a starter.
Hackett averaged 10.4 assists per set last season en route to claiming American Volleyball Coaches Association All-Great Lakes Region First Team honors as a junior.
"What makes Sophie a special setter is her willingness to take risks and be willing to set anyone in any situation," said Schmidt, who is in her 14th season as head coach at Hope, her alma mater.
"Hope volleyball has been known for being in system when a lot of other teams are out of system. That means we're able to run some of our fast-tempo sets when other teams might be struggling. When we think about the versatile hitters we have, we see a lot of opportunities to be able to use that to our advantage, even expand what we have done in the past.
Hackett has plenty of hitters to set at Hope, ranked 15th in the AVCA NCAA Division III Preseason Poll. The Flying Dutch feature a 16-player roster.
Outside hitter Katie Rietberg is a returning AVCA all-region performer. The junior from Holland, Michigan (West Ottawa) averaged a team-high 3.10 kills per set last season and helped the Flying Dutch advance to the national tournament for the ninth consecutive season.
Three other returning hitters averaged at least a kill per set in 2016: senior outside hitter Haley Muller of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Grand Rapids Christian), junior middle hitter/outside hitter Vanessa Reynhout of Freeport, Michigan (Lakewood), and senior middle hitter Paige Baker of Encinitas, California (La Costa Canyon).
"We're going to have some middles that might be playing at the antennas. We've got some talented outside hitters who are going to be swinging in the middle," Schmidt said. "There are going to be a lot of options that we have. We're looking at different combinations. Taking Sophie's experience over this last year and continuing to have her grow, that's going to be exciting for us."
Defensively, Hope will rely on senior Mallory Luke of Saline, Michigan (Saline) and sophomore Jenna VanderLaan of Grand Rapids, Michigan (South Christian) to dig up opponent's shots and get good passes to Hackett to start the offense.
"The balance between being aggressive and being smart is important," Schmidt said. "Hopefully, we're going to continue to find ways to stress the defense without too much risk-taking."
The Flying Dutch open the season on Friday, September 1-2 at the Washington-St. Louis Invitational.
Their home opener is Friday, September 8 against Olivet.
— Alan Babbitt