GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - This weekend, Calvin is hosting an eight-team NCAA Division III volleyball regional. The regional will include teams from Bethany (W.Va.), Carnegie Mellon (Pa.), DePauw (Ind.), Millikin (Ill.), Ohio Norther, Pitt.-Bradford (Pa.) and Wittenberg (Ohio).
Making its 26th appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament, including its 13th straight under the direction of current head coach Dr. Amber Warners, the No. 2 Calvin women's volleyball team opened the tournament against the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford.
Backed by a .412 hitting percentage, the Knights swept the Panthers 25-10, 25-14, 25-17 to advance to the NCAA Division III regional semifinal round where they will face the DePauw University Tigers.
Coach Warners' has stayed true to her longstanding coaching philosophy of staying focused and not looking past any opponents. "I think we're doing a really good job staying in the present moment, even at every day at practice. It's something we're going to have to continue to do," she said.
The Knights, who entered the contest with a 27-1 record, captured the MIAA regular season title with a 16-0 conference record. Last Saturday, Calvin was handed its first loss of the year in the MIAA Tournament finals, falling in a competitive five-set match to rival Hope College.
The Panthers, making their second appearance in the NCAA III Tournament, entered the match at 25-5 overall and the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference champions at 9-0. Predicted to finish seventh in the conference preseason poll, Pitt-Bradford swept Penn State Altoona last Sunday to claim the program's second-ever AMCC championship and earn an automatic bid to the national tournament.
In the first set, the Knights utilized a diverse offensive attack to jump out to an early 10-4 lead, forcing a Pitt-Bradford timeout. Following the break, Pitt-Bradford's Rose Thacker put down a kill to bring her team within five, but the Knights responded with a 6-0 run behind the serve of sophomore All-MIAA first team honoree sophomore Anna Kamp (Orland Park, Ill./Chicago Christian HS) to make the score 16-5. The Panthers were unable to build any momentum, struggling to hit around the block of Calvin freshman Ally Fea (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Mechanicsburg HS) and freshman Sarah DeVries (Grand Rapids, Mich./Northpointe Christian HS). With the scoreboard reading 21-9, Pitt-Bradford would call its second timeout of the set. However, the Knights would outscore the Panthers 4-1 to take a 25-10 victory. Calvin logged 16 kills, hitting .500 as a team.
The two teams went back-and-forth in scoring to start the first set. A three-point scoring sequence by the Knights, courtesy of a kill by DeVries, a solo block by senior Laura Danhoff (Willard, Ohio/Willard HS) and a service ace by sophomore Keilahna Castillo (Grandville, Mich./Grandville HS), would give the Knights a 9-5 advantage. The Panthers would side-out after a kill by Pitt-Bradford's Mandy Finch, but Danhoff quickly won back the point with a kill of her own. The Knights would go on to score six straight points, fueled by three service aces by junior Emily Blankespoor (Grand Rapids, Mich./South Christian HS), to earn a commanding 16-6 lead. The Panthers would go on a 6-3 run to cut Calvin's lead to seven, but Calvin would soon reclaim its ten-point lead. After a side-out, a service ace by sophomore Dani Rae Wascher (Albuquerque, N.M./Bosque HS) and a kill by DeVries, the scoreboard read 23-13. The Knights would roll to a 25-14 victory.
The Panthers were able to hang with the Knights early in the third set, employing a varied offense effort and capitalizing on a trio of Calvin serving errors. With the score at 12-11 in Calvin's favor, the Knights would go on a five-point run to pull ahead by six (17-11). After the exchange of a few points, Calvin would string together four consecutive points to go up 22-13. Despite four more points by the Panthers, DeVries would put away a final kill and the Knights would take the third set 25-13. DeVries racked up four kills in the final nine points of the set.
The Knights swung for a .412 hitting percentage in the victory. Danhoff led all-players with 12 kills, hitting .600 on the evening. DeVries followed, finishing with 10 kills and a .714 hitting percentage, also recording three block assists. Junior Tessa Van Laare (Toronto, Ontario/Toronto District Christian) and Anna Kamp logged seven kills apiece.
"I was really pleased with how we came out, especially for it being the first round. I liked how we hit, and I thought we did really well at the net blocking," said Warners.
Junior Jenna Lodewyk (Villa Park, Ill./Timothy Christian HS), named to the All-MIAA first team last week for the third consecutive year, pumped out 32 assists in the victory. Emily Blankespoor led the Knights with three service aces.
"We're going to meet a tough DePauw team tomorrow. They'll be strong, they'll be aggressive, and they're consistent on their defense. We're going to have to bring a mentality that we're going to play for every point," said Warners.
Tomorrow at 7:00 p.m., the Knights will face the four-seed DePauw University in the NCAA Division III Regional Semifinals. Prior to the national tournament, the Tigers posted a 24-5 overall record, finishing in second place in the North Coast Athletic Conference regular season and tournament. Four of the Panthers' five losses were to teams in the NCAA 64-team field.
Prior to the Knights' victory over the Panthers, DePauw defeated Carnegie-Mellon in four sets (25-20, 25-20, 21-25, 25-20) to advance to the second round. In the victory, five DePauw players had double-digit kills on the night as the team hit .239. Keegan Kollias led the team with 50 assists and 24 digs.
In her final season as a Knight, Danhoff, who was named the MIAA's Most Valuable Player, is excited for this final run at a NCAA title. "This is it," said Danhoff. "Win or go home and be done forever. It's scary, but it's also fun. Coach says it's like we're walking on a cliff. I really love that feeling and having everyone there with me."