by Eva Dean Folkert
For the third weekend in a row, the #17 nationally ranked Hope College volleyball team concluded the final day of a weekend tournament by posting two victories. And one of them came against a highly-ranked opponent.
The Flying Dutch earned two wins on Saturday by straight-set sweeping both Heidelberg University of Ohio (25-18, 25-11, 25-11) and #8 Ithaca College of New York (25-17, 25-14, 25-20) in the Wittenberg Fall Classic in Springfield, Ohio.
Those two victories move Hope to 10-1 on the season. The Flying Dutch begin MIAA league play on Tuesday, Sept. 18 against Alma College at 6:30 p.m. in DeVos Fieldhouse.
Hope used aggressive serving and well-timed blocking to separate themselves from their opponents on Saturday. In their first match against Heidelberg, the Flying Dutch served 13 aces (Heidelberg had two) and recorded four blocks (while the Student Princes had none). A couple hours later against Ithaca, Hope put down seven aces (to Ithaca's one) and 11.5 blocks (while the Bombers had two).
"Our serving was the big tide changer for us and that really started against Mary Washington (on Friday)," said head coach Becky Schmidt. "It's not just getting aces; it's getting our opponents out of a system. I think it underscored for this team how important the serve is. We were serving tough, but we weren't serving out and that just putting a lot of pressure on our opponents from the very first contact."
As for blocking, Schmidt was happy to see her blockers make adjustments and become more patient. "They did great at waiting a little bit longer and getting those hands up there and taking angles away," she explained.
Schmidt was also pleased with the play of two freshmen who contributed a good deal to the Flying Dutch's success for the entire weekend tournament. (Hope went 3-1.) "McKenna Otto was just awesome. She played really well," Schmidt said. "And Tracy Westra did too. She went to a new level of aggressiveness offensively for us. Not just distributing ball well but also attacking the ball herself by taking swings when she had chances. I really like the progress that she's showing and what that could potentially mean for our overall offense."
In the day's first match against Heidelberg, Hope used two six-point runs in the first set to establish control while in the second set, with the score tied 18-18, the Flying Dutch went on a four-point run with Adair Cutler at the service line. The third set was almost a carbon copy of the second, as again at 18-18, Hope scored five consecutive points, this time on junior Gabbi Vachon's serve, of which four were aces.
On the attack against the Student Princes, Hope was led by senior Katie Rietberg of Holland (West Ottawa HS) with 10 kills while Otto of Wheaton, Illinois (Wheaton North) added six. In assists, sophomore Cutler of East Lansing (Lansing Christian) and Westra of Clarendon Hills, Illinois (Timothy Christian) recorded 12 and 11, respectively. Vachon of Grand Rapids (Jenison HS) tallied 14 digs. Rietberg was named to the all-tournament team.
In a showdown with higher-ranked Ithaca, Hope never trailed in any of the three sets. The Flying Dutch's attack was well distributed against the Bombers with Rietberg leading the way on nine kills while Otto and junior Ryann Stutz of Kalamazoo (Parchment HS) both had seven. Cutler and Westra again went one-two in assists with 14 and 13, respectively. Vachon led the defense with 13 digs while senior Emily Farwell of Lowell (Forest Hills Central) had nine.