By Eva Dean Folkert
History would not repeat itself for Hope College on Saturday night in the MIAA Volleyball Tournament final. Last year in the tournament championship game, Hope upset undefeated Calvin College in five sets.
This year, however, the third-ranked Knights swept the Flying Dutch in three sets, 25-19, 25-22, 25-21, at Van Noord Arena in Grand Rapids.
With the win, Calvin earned the automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship with a 26-3 record.
Hope, though, will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years. Unranked in the NCAA Great Lakes Region, the Flying Dutch will not have a chance at an at-large tournament bid. They end their season at 19-11.
Hope battled from behind for much of the match — holding a lead twice at 1-0 in the first set and at 18-17 in the third — though the Flying Dutch would often rally and even the score at various points in each set. But having to come from behind often took its toll.
"I think we showed a lot of grit in the way that we fought back by continuing to believe and to find ways in order to be successful," said Hope head coach Becky Schmidt. "I think that there were too many short rallies, though, where Calvin got the better of us. On some of the (rallies) where they pushed us out of system, they were able to transition quickly and terminate.
"But I was really impressed with our fight on some of the longer rallies and the way that we created some opportunities for ourselves as each one of those sets went on. But in the end, I think we just dug ourselves a little bit too much of a hole, and it was going to take just a little bit too much in order to climb back up on top."
On the night, Calvin had a hitting percentage of .299 with 40 kills while Hope posted a .131 hitting percentage and 33 kills. The Knights out-blocked the Flying Dutch, 12-2.
"I thought it was a typical Hope-Calvin match with lots of momentum swings and lots of emotion. Two teams fighting it out," said Calvin coach Amber Warners in the post-match press conference. "And yes," she added a bit later, "we all remembered that feeling (of losing to Hope last year), so we wanted to control our destiny."
Though finishing her career for the Flying Dutch stung immediately post-match, Hackett offered a winning perspective in regard to the whole of the season.
"My best memories of this season are the people. I mean the volleyball is the volleyball," Hackett said. "I wouldn't trade my teammates for anything the world…. You know you wish it would have turned out better but as long as you can see growth and you know you work towards a common goal, that's what's best. I mean I think everyone gave everything that had on every point."
Schmidt credited the team's five seniors with evident volleyball growth throughout their careers at Hope as well as with creating a team culture that inspired cohesion.
"Sophie was playing her best volleyball at the end of the season," Schmidt continued. "The ways that she was facilitating the success of our hitters, I think was really, really coming on strong. And I've just always admired her leadership and her grit and her competitive drive.
"Leah (Dunlap) went from being a reserve player for three years and stepping up on the court in ways this year was a sign of the overall growth that she had.
"Haley (Muller), in terms of going from being a three-rotation right side to a six-rotation left side, made a pretty challenging move in her senior year, and I thought she did a really nice job making that adjustment.
"Paige (Baker) has really been a rock for us all season and her consistency in the middle was something that we really grew to depend on, and it was absolutely awesome.
"Mallory (Luke) was just an unbelievably steady player for us for four years. Her consistency in the back row and her self-confidence in her ability inspired a lot of our players.
"So I'm really proud of these seniors," Schmidt concluded. "I'm not only proud of what they did for us on the court, but I'm proud of the relationships that they have with each other because it's something that's special."