by Eva Dean Folkert
There's nothing better than two solid wins loaded on board a six-and-a-half hour bus trip to make the ride home oh-so sweet.
Actually, make that three wins.
The Hope College volleyball team has started their season with a 3-0 record after defeating three talented opponents at the Transylvania University Tournament in Lexington, Kentucky this weekend.
On Friday, the Flying Dutch bested #25 Berry (Ga.) College in three straights, 26-24, 25-19, and 25-14.
On Saturday, Hope kept that winning momentum going, but it was a chore. They recorded two more victories by defeating host Transylvania in four sets, 25-16, 28-26, 18-25 and 25-16 in the morning. Then, playing just two hours after the completion of their match with the Pioneers, the Flying Dutch were victorious over #10-ranked and University Athletics Association (UAA) defending champions, Washington University in St. Louis. It took five raucous sets, 15-25, 29-27, 19-25, 27-25, and 15-7.
The entire day was a testament to the Hope team's gritty nature, evident already in a young season. Head coach Becky Schmidt had predicted a challenging Saturday of play for her team. The unranked Flying Dutch used tenacity and talent to get through it.
"Today was a grind," said head coach Becky Schmidt. "While you always want your team to look as good as humanly possible at all times, that's just sometimes not the case. I think one of the marks of a team's character is how well they can find a way to grind when things are not going their way.
"I give Wash U credit," she continued. "They did a ton of really great stuff like finding the holes in our defense and being tactically very smart. It wasn't until we were able to get them to be a little bit more predictable by serving tough and being a little bit more aggressive on offense that we were able to exploit and take advantage of situations… I'm really proud of this team."
In their Transylvania match, Hope received great senior leadership from co-captain and outside hitter Katie Rietberg of Holland (West Ottawa) who led with 16 kills on a .400 hitting percentage. Sophomore Rose Thompson of Coopersville (Unity Christian) added 12 kills while sophomore Adair Cutler of Lansing (Lansing Christian), pictured, and freshman Traci Westra of Clarendon Hills, Illinois (Timothy Christian) directed the offense from the setter position with 28 and 20 assists, respectively.
Junior libero Gabbi Vachon of Grand Rapids (Jenison) had 14 digs.
The match against Wash U was where the Flying Dutch found a new gear of resilience. After being soundly defeated by the Bears in the first set, Hope did not back down. Each set from then on was a tooth-and-nail battle, but it was in the fifth when the Flying Dutch dictated play offensively. Though they had a below average .152 hitting percentage for the match (to the Bears' .233), Hope hit .357 in the fifth set.
"The other important thing in that last set was that Adair's serving was really clutch and it created a separation," explained Schmidt. Cutler took to the service line with the score tied 5-5 and in a run of seven serves, she recorded four aces. When Cutler was done, Hope was up, 12-5
"That frustrated Wash U," Schmidt said. "It took their wind out."
Against the Bears, Rietberg again led the Flying Dutch at the net with 17 kills. Outside hitters Ryann Stutz, a junior from Kalamazoo (Parchment) and McKenna Otto, a freshman from Wheaton, Illinois (Wheaton North) aided the offense with 11 and 10 kills, respectively, while Cutler and Westra had 24 and 19 assists, respectively.
Defensively, Gabbi Vachon and Rietberg had 13 and 12 digs respectively against the Bears.
The Flying Dutch are back in action next weekend when they host the MIAA Preview Tournament. Play begins at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, September 7, in DeVos Fieldhouse.