by Alan Babbitt
An adventurous Hope College volleyball team discovered more about itself away from home and on the rival's home court.
Outside of one set, the Flying Dutch dominated second-ranked Calvin College on Friday and posted a 25-18, 25-18, 11-25, 25-20 victory on Friday in front of 2,342 fans at Van Noord Arena.
No. 20 Hope served up a satisfying performance that improved its record to 18-5 overall and handed the Knights just their second loss in 22 matches this season. Calvin's only other loss is to top-ranked University of Chicago.
"One of the things I'm really proud of about this team is the way they're looking at each point as an opportunity to explore what it looks like to play really great volleyball," head coach Becky Schmidt said. "I'm really proud of the direction we're heading."
Friday's journey — the first of three matches this weekend against highly regarded teams — saw the Flying Dutch flip the script from a 25-12, 25-22, 25-23 loss to Calvin on September 28 at DeVos Fieldhouse.
Hope totaled 22 blocks in the rematch compared to seven earlier.
The Flying Dutch started strong in the three sets they won — jumping ahead 7-1 in the first set, 7-3 in the second set and 7-2 in the fourth set.
Sophomore middle blocker McKenna Otto of Wheaton, Illinois (Wheaton North HS) led the Hope charge with a game-high 17 kills and a near-season high .552 hitting percentage. Otto, pictured above left, also collected a match-high seven blocks.
Sophomore outside hitter Ana Grunewald of Grand Rapids, Michigan (East Grand Rapids), pictured above right, chipped in 10 kills and 12 digs.
Senior libero Gabbi Vachon of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Jenison) recorded 19 of Hope's 62 digs.
Otto credited strong teamwork for giving the Flying Dutch opportunities to score from the first serve. She finished with her second-highest kill total of the season.
"We were getting into system a lot, which was allowing Tracy and Adair to give me the ball in my strongest spot," Otto said. "The communication from the bench (was big). I was told where to hit and the sets were on."
While Friday's match did not count toward the MIAA standings because of the league's single-round format for determining a champion, Otto and her teammates still enjoyed snapping a seven-match losing streak in The Rivalry.
Calvin also had won, prior to Friday, 15 of the 16 previous meetings since the Flying Dutch won the 2014 national semifinal between them en route to their first national championship. The Knights' 82-36 edge in the all-time series is largely built on their ability to hold home court. Friday was Hope's 10th win at Calvin in 60 tries.
The largest crowd see a Division III volleyball match this season witnessed a Hope victory. The previous high of 1,483 happened at DeVos Fieldhouse during the first Hope-Calvin match.
Van Noord Arena offered a loud and challenging environment that picked up during Calvin's comeback.
The third set, though, proved to be just a blip, a temporary setback, for these adventurous Flying Dutch.
"We were just preparing all day for this. We knew what to expect in this kind of environment and use it to our advantage," Otto said. "We said, 'They're the No. 2 in the country. They're not going to back down.' We had to keep scraping for every point. We just fed off the energy the Calvin students gave to us and continued to have confidence knowing we can play well and win this match."
Added Schmidt, "The crowd was amazing. It's a privilege to play in an environment like this because it's rare and it's really exhilliarting. I appreciate everybody in West Michigan who appreciates good volleyball."
On Saturday, Hope plays two matches at DeVos Fieldhouse: 2 p.m. vs. 16-9 Alma College and 4 p.m. vs. 22-1 Chicago.