by Eva Dean Folkert
The Hope College volleyball team played two non-league matches on Saturday that were similar in only one way: each was a win. Aside from that, the Flying Dutch's routes to victories differed in length and focus.
At Bluffton University, Hope secured its first victory of the day in a five-set battle against Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Indiana), 25-13, 25-20, 26-28, 25-27, 15-11. Playing immediately after the completion of that match, the Flying Dutch quickly churned out another win, never trailing once in three sets over host Bluffton (Ohio), 25-22, 25-18, 25-12.
No. 18-ranked Hope now stand at 16-4 overall, with a 3-1 MIAA record.
After racing out to win the first two sets against Rose-Hulman, the Flying Dutch saw the Fightin' Engineers pull even as they took the next two. In the fifth and deciding set, the teams battled in seesaw fashion, but when the score stood at 9-9, Hope reclaimed offensive momentum toward their victorious completion.
"In the first two sets of the Rose-Hulman match, I thought we were in definite control, but then they started defending us a little bit better and serving us a little bit tougher and that turned the tide a little bit," said coach Becky Schmidt. "We've got to make sure that we remember that while we're pretty good, but we are not so good that we can coast."
The Flying Dutch had a fairly well-balanced attack with double-digit kills by senior Katie Rietberg of Holland (West Ottawa HS) with 21, freshman McKenna Otto of Wheaton, Illinois (Wheaton North) with 19, and senior Grace Ditzenberger of Centennial, Colorado (Chaparral) and freshman Ana Grunewald of Grand Rapids (East Grand Rapids) with 11 each.
Hope hit an impressive .303 to Rose-Hulman's .192. Otto helped Hope's percentage immensely by personally hitting .533.
"McKenna was phenomenal in that Rose-Hulman match," Schmidt said. "We could not set her enough. Grace hit for a high percentage as well (.429) and made herself available a lot, too."
Ditzenberger, pictured above, kept swinging with success when the Bluffton match rolled around, connecting on .533 of her kill attempts (eight-for-15). In fact, Schmidt was impressed with much of her team for the way they adjusted when the Bluffton team "made us move around a little bit more. When that happened, I was impressed that (Hope) took advantage of that. They didn't look at that as the threat; they looked at it as an opportunity and became much more flexible and adaptable."
Against Bluffton, Hope was again led at the net by Rietberg with 13 kills.
Freshman Tracy Westra of Clarendon Hills, Illinois (Timothy Christian) and sophomore Adair Cutler of Lansing (Lansing Christian) shared the setting load with almost equal contributions. Westra had 32 assists against Rose-Hulman and 13 against Bluffton, while Cutler tallied 24 assists against the Fightin' Engineers and 18 against the Beavers.
Junior Gabbi Vachon of Grand Rapids (Jenison HS) led the back-row defense with a total of 38 digs on the day.
Overall, Schmidt was also particularly pleased with her team's low error percentage in each match. In the Rose-Hulman match, Hope made just 22 errors on 178 attempts, and against Bluffton, the Flying Dutch committed 10 errors on 127 attempts.
"I thought we did a good job of taking care of the ball and forcing them to have to dig today," Schmidt concluded.
Hope plays next at home on Wednesday, October 10 in an MIAA match against Albion College. Match time is 6:30 p.m.