By Eva Dean Folkert
The Hope College volleyball team will play in the MIAA Volleyball Tournament final for the 12th consecutive time after the Flying Dutch defeated Saint Mary College in the tournament semifinal on Friday night, 25-20, 25-23, and 25-22, at Calvin College's Van Noord Arena.
On Saturday, Hope will face Calvin College, 3-0 winners over Albion College in the other semifinal. Match time is at 4:30 pm at Van Noord Arena. It will also be the 12th consecutive time Hope and Calvin have met in the tournament finals.
Playing against each other for the third time this season, though this time on a neutral court, the Flying Dutch and the Belles looked to break the tie they chalked up against each other during the season when they exchanged victories on the other's home floor. In September, Hope defeated Saint Mary's, 3-2, in South Bend. In October, the Belles topped the Flying Dutch, 3-0, in Holland.
On Friday, though, the night belonged to Hope's consistent play in each set with balanced hitting and defense.
Senior Katie Rietberg of Holland, Michigan (West Ottawa HS) led Hope's hitters with 14 kills and a .312 hitting percentage, followed by senior Haley Muller of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Grand Rapids Christian) with 11 kills and a .237 percentage and junior Vanessa Reynhout of Freeport, Michigan (Lakewood) with 8 kills and a .333 percentage. Senior Sophie Hackett of Indianapolis, Indiana (Brebeuf Jesuit Prep) led the team in digs (22) and assists (35).
"We've been waiting for a long time to have a match where we're seeing our left-side hitters hitting high percentages, our middles hitting high percentages, and our right-side hitters hitting high percentages," said head coach Becky Schmidt. "An overall offensive balance was really good to see tonight. The consistency that we were able to deliver was a lot better. And I thought that we were just much more intentional about the ways that we are trying to stress Saint Mary's defense than the last time we played them. I felt like we were being very tactical and very smart today while also being very aggressive."
In the first set, great defensive blocking set up the Flying Dutch for good offensive output.
In the second set, Hope came back from five points down midway through (17-12), tied the match at 21-21, and then finished the set with a service ace by sophomore Jenna VanderLaan of Grand Rapids, Michigan (South Christian).
The third set was as tightly contested as the first two, though Hope hit its best percentage of the night with .286. For the match, Hope hit .224 overall to Saint Mary's .181.
"I was just really, really impressed with the team's focus in terms of staying poised and being able to deal with the things that Saint Mary's was doing that was giving them some success. We made adjustments and executed."
Hope will seek to keep the momentum, focus, and poise going into tomorrow's finals match against Calvin, ranked #3 in the nation by the AVCA Coaches.
The winner of Saturday's MIAA final will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III Volleyball Tournament.