by Alan Babbitt
An improving Hope College volleyball team won twice on Saturday to finish the Illinois Wesleyan University tournament unbeaten.
The 20th-ranked Flying Dutchmen downed Aurora University (Illinois) in four sets and Luther College (Iowa) in three sets to raise their record to 10-3 overall.
Hope recovered quickly and successfully after opening the tournament on Friday with a winning, five-set comeback against host Illinois Wesleyan.
"I really saw some improvement in our defense, primarily our backcourt digging," head coach Becky Schmidt said. "Jenna Vanderlaan played great this weekend. Gabbi Vachon is starting to come back after being sidelined the first weekend of the season (with an injury).
"We were able to focus our offense on some certain vulnerabilities of our opponents this weekend. I was really pleased with our setters finding success. I like this team's heart I like their resiliency. I like how they are focused on continuing to improve."
Hope now turns its attention to Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association play. The Flying Dutch face the other top teams in the MIAA preseason coaches poll next week: at third-place Alma College on Tuesday, September 24 and at home vs. first-place Calvin College on Saturday, September 28.
On Saturday, Hope started with a 25-21, 23-25, 25-13, 25-13 victory against Aurora (8-6).
Sophomore middle hitter McKenna Otto of Wheaton, Illinois (Wheaton North HS) powered the Flying Dutch with a career-high 20 kills.
Sophomore outside hitter Ana Grunewald of Grand Rapids, Michigan (East Grand Rapids) chipped in 13 kills, while sophomore setter Tracy Westra of Clarendon Hills, Illinois (Timothy Christian) contributed 10 kills and 24 assists.
Junior setter Adair Cutler of East Lansing, Michigan (Lansing Christian) topped Hope with 29 assists.
Vachon, a senior from Grand Rapids, Michigan (Jenison), recorded a team-high 22 digs. VanderLaan, a senior from Byron Center, Michigan (South Christian), totaled 21 digs.
During a 25-14, 25-22, 25-16 win against Luther (3-11), Otto's 16 kills led the Flying Dutch. Hope hit .323 as a team.
Grunewald posted nine kills and a team-high 12 digs. Vachon added 10 digs.
"I think we're realizing how big our potential can be," Schmidt said. "We've come close to playing at it, but we haven't been able to play it consistently as a team yet. When that happens, it's going to be a beautiful thing. Until it happens, we're going to continue to find ways to create opportunities to win."