by Eva Dean Folkert
Saturday was a red-letter day for head volleyball coach Becky Schmidt and her No. 17-ranked Flying Dutch. Not only did Schmidt's team take two straight-set wins over No. 8-ranked Wittenberg (Ohio) University and Kenyon (Ohio) College in the MIAA/NCAC Crossover Challenge in Lansing, Michigan, it was those very wins that moved the 16-year head coach's Hope victory total to 400.
Convincingly going 2-0 for the day, notching a significantly large, round-numbered achievement — all in all, it was a very good day for the Hope College volleyball team, owners of a 5-1 record.
"It feels great (to get to 400)," said Schmidt. "It's just a reflection of a much bigger team — a lot of (volleyball) alums, a lot of coaches. A lot of people played a role in those wins, and I'm thankful for the big group of people that I'm blessed to be a part of."
Win No. 399 came against Wittenberg University (2-3) in the Flying Dutch's first match of the day at the Aim High Sports Complex. Though Hope has suffered a five-set loss to DePauw (Ind.) University on Friday night, the Flying Dutch looked like a team renewed, taking command early in the match, setting the tone at the net, and never trailing in any of their three sets against the Tigers. The result was Hope winning sets with scores of 25-21, 25-14, 25-13.
Win No. 400 against Kenyon College (2-5) went much the same way for the Flying Dutch as their win over Wittenberg — dominating at net, going on big runs, playing solid defense from the back line and taking three sets fast (the match lasted an hour) with scores of 25-16, 25-17, 25-10.
"We were really disappointed by last night's loss," Schmidt confessed. "There are losses where it's still good volleyball, and at last night's loss wasn't really good volleyball. It was disappointing because we never really found our rhythm."
"Today was very different," she continued. "What we're finding is that it's very much starting with the serve-and-pass battle. We get the other team on their heels with a tough serve and the ball that we are able to get back from them is a lot easier to handle if we can run our offense. If we let the other team pass well, it certainly makes defense a lot harder. From that standpoint, we passed a lot better today, too. So, the serve-and-pass battle is going to be something that we're going to pay a lot of attention to. It is the catalyst that influences every other aspect of our game and we've got to be at the top of that to be at the top of our game."
Against Wittenberg, sophomore outside hitter Molly Ligon of Beverly Hills (Birmingham Seaholm HS) tallied 10 kills while sophomore middle hitter McKenna Otto of Wheaton, Ill. (Wheaton North HS) and sophomore Ana Grunewald of Grand Rapids (East Grand Rapids HS) had eight kills each. Otto never made an attack error for a .615 hitting percentage while Ligon had just one error for a .529 hitting percentage.
On defense, sophomore libero Grace Pettinger of Mt. Vernon, Iowa (Mt. Vernon HS) led with 10 digs while at the net, setters Adair Cutler of and Tracy Westra of () recorded 14 and 13 assists, respectively.
Against Kenyon, a new name rose up to the top of stat sheet. Outside hitter Charlotte Brecht of Gross Pointe Farms (Gross Pointe South HS) tallied 10 kills on 13 attempts with one error, making for a .692 hitting percentage, the best by a Flying Dutch on the day. Sophomore Gruenwald added eight kills, junior Rose Thompson of Coopersville (Unity Christian HS) had seven. Pettinger again led with digs (8) while Cutler and Westra recorded double-digit assists once again with 14 and 12, respectively.
"The big thing that I think happened this morning was Charlotte Brecht came into our lineup and she played fantastic," explained Schmidt. "She's a freshman and is really started to get a feel for the speed of the college game and how we like to play. That also made it possible to move Molly (Ligon) over to the left side where she was able to really take care of some swings.
"So, we are blessed with a lot of interchangeable parts right now," Schmidt concluded. "A lot of people can play multiple positions and a lot of people are really competing for our starting lineup. We're not quite there yet to know exactly what that's going to be, but it's still really exciting."
Hope travels to another tournament next weekend, Friday and Saturday, September 13-14, for the Carnegie-Mellon Invitational in Pittsburgh, Pa. Four matches are on the Flying Dutch's schedule there against Muskingum (Ohio) and Mt. Union (Ohio) on Friday and host Carnegie-Mellon and Case Western (Ohio) on Saturday.