by Dean Holzwarth
For a brief moment, it appeared as if an upset was in the making for the Hope College volleyball team.
Unfortunately, the top-ranked team in Division III was having none of it and spoiled the Flying Dutch's attempt.
Despite a strong second set, No. 14 Hope fell to rival Calvin College 3-1 (16-25, 25-20, 16-25, 13-25) in Saturday's final of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Tournament at Van Noord Arena.
"I thought it was a tale of two matches," head coach Becky Schmidt said. "The times that we were passing and serving tough, and then the times that we weren't.
"I was really pleased with the offensive productivity we had when we were in system and the aggressive defense. I felt good about some of the moves we were making defensively. When we were not passing, it was a struggle."
After dropping the first set, the Flying Dutch gained momentum and jumped out to an early 7-3 advantage.
Hope never trailed in the second set, and when outside hitter Ryann Stutz of Kalamazoo, Michigan (Parchment HS), found an opening in the Calvin defense and dropped in a set-ending shot, the match was knotted.
"When we were passing well and hitting well everything just clicked," said senior Katie Rietberg of Holland, Michigan (West Ottawa). "And then just consistently getting out of our system makes you predictable and we fell into that the third set."
A kill by Grace Ditzenberger of Centennial, Colorado (Chaparral) gave the Flying Dutch a brief 10-9 lead in the third set, however, Calvin won six of the next seven points.
Hope fell behind 12-2 in the fourth set en route to its third defeat of the season against the Knights.
"When everyone on this team has given everything they have coming into this and preparing for it, it's hard when the outcome is not what we wanted it to be," Ditzenberger said. "But hopefully this will be a good push for us and we can get an at-large bid for the tournament."
The Flying Dutch fell to 25-7 overall with three of their losses coming against Calvin.
Hope now will wait to see if it will receive an at-large bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament. The NCAA announces the 64-team field on Monday at 12:30 p.m. on NCAA.com.
"I'm incredibly proud of what this team has done this season and I'm confident that we're going to have an opportunity for our season to continue," Schmidt said. "If it doesn't happen then it's an absolute travesty because I know what this team is capable of doing when they are firing on all cylinders."
Stutz, Rietberg and McKenna Otto of Wheaton, Illinois (Wheaton North) led the Flying Dutch with eight kills apiece.
Junior Gabbi Vachon of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Jenison HS) had a game-high 16 digs, while Ditzenberger had a team-high three blocks.
This was Hope's 13th consecutive appearance in the championship game of the MIAA Tournament and 16th overall.