For the third time in four years, the Calvin women's volleyball team is headed back to quarterfinal round of the NCAA III Tournament.
The top-ranked Knights did so in a familiar way, defeating 10th-ranked Wittenberg in a five-set NCAA III regional final Saturday night in front of more than 2,000 fans at Calvin's Van Noord Arena. Calvin won the match by scores of 25-19, 25-22, 23-25, 24-26, 15-9.
Calvin will face the winner of a regional final between Williams (Ma.) and U-Mass Boston. The Williams/U-Mass-Boston match will be played on Sunday afternoon. Calvin's quarterfinal match against its Massachusetts opponent will be played next Thursday at Hope's DeVos Fieldhouse at a time yet to be announced.
Saturday night marked the fourth consecutive year that Calvin and Wittenberg have faced off in a regional final. It also marked the fifth time that two teams have done so overall as they also met in the 2005 NCAA III regional final at Wittenberg with the Tigers winning that matchup in three sets. In 2010, Calvin won at Wittenberg in four sets and continued on to win the national title. In 2011, Wittenberg returned the favor, defeating Calvin in four sets in Grand Rapids - en route to the school's first national title. A year ago, Calvin defeated Wittenberg in five sets - once again in Grand Rapids.
In the 2013 regional final, Calvin threatened a three-set sweep as the Knights led 15-13 in set three after winning the opening two sets. Wittenberg sophomore Kara Seidenstricker then turned the match around with a kill and five subsequent service points including one service ace. The run gave Wittenberg a 19-15 lead. Calvin came back to within a point at 24-23 but a Seidenstricker kill closed out the set and kept the match alive.
In set four, Calvin once again moved out a lead, going up 18-15 and later 23-20 but the visiting Tigers stiffened, scoring three straight points to tie the match at 23. A kill by senior Megan Rietema gave Calvin a 24-23 and a math point but Seidenstricker rose to the occasion again with back-to-back kills. A Calvin attack error then allowed Wittenberg to grab the 26-24 win and force a deciding set five.
"I could see it in their eyes," said Calvin women's volleyball coach Amber Warners of her players. "We weren't ready to give up. Our resiliency tonight was key and it showed in the fifth set."
Calvin rolled out to a 7-3 lead, forcing Wittenberg to burn both of its timeouts. Calvin then built a 13-7 lead and closed out the match behind an attack error and a service error by Wittenberg.
"We keep trying to preach to our team to keep with it," said Wittenberg head coach Paco Labrador of his team's comeback bid. "Both teams have good players that can get the job done and I think that is why you saw a lot of ebbs and flows throughout the match."
Calvin was led by sophomore Maggie Kamp who tallied 21 kills and 13 digs while junior Ellie Diepersloot had 12 kills and a .417 attack percentage. Junior Emily Crowe had nine kills while senior Megan Rietema had 40 assists, 11 digs and nine kills to go with five block assists. Senior Kristen Zietse also had a team-high 19 digs. Freshman Laura Danhoff had three service aces and a match-high eight block assists.
Wittenberg was paced by Seidenstricker who had a match-high 25 kills to go with 19 digs and three service aces. Senior Andrea Behling tallied 22 kills in her final match in a Wittenberg uniform while setter Meghan Vodopich had 53 assists and 12 digs.
"It's exciting," said Rietema about Calvin winning another regional title. "This is what our team plays for - to get to this point."
Calvin is now 4-1 in five-set matches this year. The Knights are also 35-23 all-time in NCAA III Tournament play.
Rietema was named the regional tournament's most outstanding player and was joined on the all-tournament team from Calvin by senior Kristen Zietse and sophomore Maggie Kamp. Also named to the all-tournament team were Vodopich, Seidenstricker, Taylor Webb of Mount Union and Nikki DelZenero of Chicago.