Posted: Nov 16, 2019
by Dean Holzwarth
The Hope College volleyball team showed a tremendous amount of resiliency in back-to-back comeback victories to reach Saturday's regional final of the NCAA Division III national tournament.
Unfortunately, the Flying Dutch didn't have enough to overcome one more deficit against their longtime rivals.
Hope lost 3-1 (19-25, 20-25, 25-21, 20-25) to host and No. 3 Calvin University, ending its season one win shy of a national quarterfinal appearance.
The 10th-ranked Flying Dutch, who finished with a 24-8 overall record, were making their 16th postseason appearance, and advanced to their first regional final since their national championship run in 2014.
"As it has been our M.O. recently, that was a gritty, gritty match, and I want to give credit to Calvin and the way they played and the poise they had down the stretch," head coach Becky Schmidy said. "They had a few too many weapons for us tonight and we wish them the best moving forward."
Hope pulled out a pair of thrilling five-set matches against the University of Texas-Dallas and Muskingum University (Ohio) in the first round and semifinals, respectively.
The Flying Dutch trailed 2-1 in each of those matches, but found a way to force a fifth set and prevail.
They found themselves trailing 2-1 again against the Knights, but couldn't repeat its previous successes as Calvin pulled away in a back-and-forth decisive fourth set.
"I think these guys are competitors, they were going to be in a battle and going to fight to win it," Schmidt said. "I don't think because it was Calvn it changed that narrative at all and I think that because it's the NCAA tournament everybody is going to fight.
"I was impressed with our fight, but I think our execution at times didn't pan out. Maybe that was a little fatigue, but the fight was there and I love these guys."
It was the final match for seniors Gabbi Vachon of Grand Rapids (Jenison HS), Ryann Stutz of Kalamazoo (Parchment HS) and Jenna Vander Lann of Grand Rapids (South Christian HS).
"If you don't win a national championship, it doesn't end ideally, but we came into this postseason and it was already a huge success," said Vachon, who recorded a game-high 17 digs. "We have the most fun team in Division III, and we're not done being a team because we're done playing volleyball officially."
Stutz, who had eight kills, was named to the all-regional team along with sophomore McKenna Otto of Wheaton, Illinois (Wheaton North HS).
"I'm really proud of us," Stutz said. "Right now I'm not convinced that volleyball is out of my life forever so that helps me stay positive, but I'm really proud of the things that we've done as a team and the three of us throughout our four years. It's nice to look back at those memories and I really appreciate what we've had together."
Despite dropping the first two sets, VanderLaan said the team wasn't going to go out without giving their best effort.
"We had nothing to lose, and we were going to give it all we got and leave it out there," she said. "We were going to try our best and I love my teammates."
Hope lost three of four matches to the Knights this season, most recently in the MIAA finals.
"They had a heck of a season and Becky always has a way to get her kids to play and she gets the most out of them," Calvin coach Amber Warners said. "It's difficult to play a rival the fourth time and wait all day to play and be smooth and resilient and aggressive, but I thought we did that."
The Flying Dutch didn't have an answer for regional MVP Sarah DeVries, who had a game-high 20 kills.
Sophomore outside hitter Ana Grunwald of Grand Rapids (East Grand Rapids HS) led Hope with 12 kills, while Otto added 11 kills.