Volleyball Splits, Defeats Alma But Loses to UChicago

by Eva Dean Folkert

McKenna Otto poses for a portrait. Less than 24 hours after successfully completing an upset win over rival and second-ranked Calvin University on Friday night, the 20th-ranked Hope College volleyball looked to take down the No. 1-ranked team in NCAA Division III, University of Chicago, at DeVos Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.

The top-two-team sweep was not to be as the Flying Dutch lost to the non-conference Maroons in four sets, 17-25, 17-25, 25-23, 20-25.

Earlier in the day, Hope defeated MIAA-foe Alma College, also in a four-set match, with scores of 25-20, 22-25, 25-19, 25-19. The contest did not count toward league standings.

With the split on the day, the Flying Dutch now have a 19-6 overall record. At 5-1 in the MIAA, the Flying Dutch are currently in second place with two matches to play. Hope will host Adrian College on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. for Senior Night. The team then travels to Olivet College on Saturday, November 2 for an 11 a.m. match.

This weekend of back-to-back tough competition was something head coach Becky Schmidt had planned for.

"We scheduled this weekend intentionally because we knew that in the NCAA tournament, you have to play three really good teams in just a few days," said Schmidt. "So, we wanted to make sure that we were figuring out how we're going to handle recovery, how we're going to handle scouting, how we were going to handle having to play good teams and be prepared for all of that."

Against Chicago (23-1), who also defeated Calvin earlier in the season, Hope had to constantly find ways to get around the Maroon block and neutralize its defense, especially in the first two sets. On the attack on those two sets, Chicago totaled 31 kills to Hope's 23.

In the third set, though, the Flying Dutch played with more poise and came from five points down at 17-12, to pull even with the Maroons at 17-17. The rest of the set's score seesawed back and forth until sophomore middle hitter McKenna Otto of Wheaton, Illinois (Wheaton North), pcitured, put the set away with one of her match-high 16 kills.

Earlier in the day, Otto also topped the Flying Dutch with kills against Alma with 19 on a .516 hitting percentage.

"I thought that McKenna Otto is just an absolute rock star today, but we need other people to now step up to the plate and be able to give us some more options when she's either not in the lineup or the pass doesn't give us the opportunity to give her the ball," added Schmidt. "And we certainly have players that are capable of being able to do that. We just have to be really intentional with the way that we're trying to attack defenses so that we're maximizing the chances that we get."

Against Alma (16-10), Hope led throughout in the three sets it won, taking its largest margin of the match in the fourth set with a 15-3 lead.

On the two matches, sophomore Tracy Westra of Clarendon Hills, Illinois (Timothy Christian HS) garnered the most assists; 27 against Alma and 23 against Chicago. She also had three kills in each match.

Sophomore Ana Grunewald of Grand Rapids (East Grand Rapids HS) tallied 14 kills against Alma and 10 against Chicago.

Senior Gabbi Vachon of Grand Rapids (Jenison HS) led in digs against Chicago with 17 while Grunewald had the most digs against Alma with 17 as well.