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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Calvin women's volleyball team handed Johnson & Wales University its first loss of the season, sweeping the Wildcats 25-21, 25-19, 26-24 in the quarterfinal round of the 2017 NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Tournament. With the win, the Knights advance to the NCAA Division III Tournament Semifinals where they will face top-seeded Wittenberg University.
Calvin is seeded fifth in the tournament, while JWU was the four-seed. Thursday night's match marked the first time Calvin and Johnson & Wales have met.
The Wildcats finish their season with a 35-1 overall record. Prior to the match, the Wildcats were the only undefeated team in Division III volleyball. This season marks the first time JWU has made a run in the NCAA Tournament, as the Wildcats earned their first NCAA Tournament win against Elms on November 10. JWU took down Elms, Wesleyan (Conn.) and MIT before meeting the Knights. The Wildcats' quarterfinal appearance is the farthest any JWU athletics team has advanced in school history.
Calvin is making its 27th appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament, including its 14th straight under head coach Dr. Amber Warners. Calvin is 55-25 In the NCAA Tournament, with three national titles, two second-place finishes and two fourth-place finishes.
"I'd like to congratulate Nancy [Somera] and Johnson & Wales. They have a heck of a team and they didn't give up," said Dr. Warners. "I thought it was one of the most intense, well-played volleyball matches for us of the year. Anything we threw at them, it seemed like they just dug it up. What I loved about our side was I thought we were very resilient and very patient and we played really good defense."
The Knights showed their experience as they battled through three competitive sets and prevailed.
"We try not to scoreboard watch. We try to play every point to the best of our ability and let the outcome take care of itself," said Dr. Warners. "We've had our backs to the wall several times this year, and I believe in our team. It's our philosophy – whether we're up two or down two or it's tied – we're going to try to play the same way every single time, to play the ball and not the scoreboard."
The Knights and Wildcats exchanged points early in set one, but Calvin quickly found its rhythm, racking up five straight points behind the serve of junior libero Keilahna Castillo (Grandville, Mich./Grandville) to force a JWU timeout. Out of the break, Castillo landed a service ace to give the Knights a 10-4 lead. The Wildcats pushed back, going on a 10-4 run of their own to knot the score at 14 before Calvin called timeout. The Knights regained their lead after a big kill by sophomore Sarah DeVries (Grand Rapids, Mich./Northpointe Christian). A double block by DeVries and junior Anna Kamp (Orland Park, Ill./Chicago Christian) brought the score to 16-14. The Wildcats used four kills to tie the set at 19, but senior setter Jenna Lodewyk (Villa Park, Ill./Timothy Christian) broke the tie with a kill. Senior Tessa Van Laare (Toronto, Ont./Toronto District Christian) followed with a kill of her own to make it 21-19. After an error on both sides, DeVries and freshman Sydney Segard (Hudsonville, Mich./Hudsonville) brought the Knights within two points of victory. DeVries came up with timely back-to-back kills to lift the Knights to a 25-21 set-one win.
Early in set two, the two teams were tied at four and then six. The Wildcats pulled ahead to lead 9-7, but kills by Lodewyk and Kamp evened the score once again. JWU regained the lead after a trio of Knights' errors and Calvin called its first timeout. Coming out of the break, Van Laare, Kamp and DeVries earned kills to help knot the score at 13 before the Wildcats called timeout. The teams exchanged points, until a five-point Calvin run gave the Knights a 20-15 lead, the largest of the set. Despite a second JWU timeout, the Knights continued their late-set push to claim a 25-19 victory in set two.
Set three was closely contested as the score was tied 21 times, including six lead changes. With the score tied at 17, JWU scored back-to-back points to take the lead a force a Calvin timeout. The Knights put down back-to-back kills out of the break to knot the score once again. JWU pushed back with a 4-2 run and Calvin called its second timeout, the scoreboard reading 23-21 in favor of the Wildcats.
The Knights sided out following the break as Van Laare put down a kill. A stuff block by DeVries and Segard tied the set at 23 and a big service ace by Lodewyk put the Knights on top. With no points left to give, the Wildcats called timeout. JWU won the next point out of the break, but a kill by Van Laare made it match point for Calvin. Another kill by Van Laare gave the Knights a 26-24 third-set win and a 3-0 match victory.
"Thinking back on regionals really helped us grow as a team," said Lodewyk, who served for six straight points as the Knights claimed a narrow 16-14 fifth-set victory over Washington University in Calvin's first game of the NCAA Tournament. "We had our backs against the wall multiple times. To just know that – no matter what, no matter how close the other team is to match point or winning the match – each point we can fight for."
DeVries had a stellar match for the Knights, leading all players with 19 kills and four block assists, while also finishing with 11 digs and eight assists. DeVries was named to the AVCA All-America Second Team and Great Lakes All-Region Team.
"We love the support from all the fans – the parents, students, everyone," said DeVries. "I couldn't ask for a better atmosphere to play in. It makes the situation a lot more fun and intense. It's really special to be a part of it."
"Sarah is one of the most competitive people that I know," said Dr. Warners. "It almost seems like the bigger the match, the better she plays. It doesn't surprise me at all."
"One of the things I love most about Sarah is that she always wants the ball," said Lodewyk. "No matter what the situation, she's eager for it. I think that confidence is something that's really valuable. Throughout the whole season, I've seen that from her."
Kamp followed with 13 kills, including seven in the third set, and 12 digs. Kamp was named the AVCA Division III Player of the Year on Wednesday at the NCAA Division III Volleyball Championship Banquet; she was named the AVCA Great Lakes Regional Player of the Year Award and the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Most Valuable Player.
Lodewyk pumped out 34 assists in the victory, also digging up 11 balls. Earlier today, Lodewyk was named to the CoSIDA All-Academic All-District team, and has earned AVCA All-America Second Team honors; she is one of two Knights to have earned All-America honors all four years.
Calvin's back row was solid as always. Castillo finished with a team-high 19 digs senior Emily Blankespoor (Grand Rapids, Mich./South Christian) 11.
"I don't think that our back row gets enough credit, ever," noted Dr. Warners. "They never get the awards, and they are back there, really unselfishly working their tails off. I thought they passed a really great match."
Prior to the match, JWU led the nation swinging for a .328 hitting percentage, but the Knights held the Wildcats to a season-low .096 hitting percentage.
Calvin will face Wittenberg University (26-2) in the NCAA Division III Semifinals on Friday night at 7:30p.m. The Knights are 14-13 all-time against the Wildcats. The two teams have met in the NCAA Tournament Regional Finals four times in the past seven years. The top-seeded Wildcats swept Swarthmore 25- 15, 27-19 and 25-19 in Friday evening's quarterfinal match. Wittenberg is a member of the North Coast Athletic Conference; the Wildcats claimed both the conference regular season and tournament titles.
Ithaca will face Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in Friday's opening semifinal match at 5 p.m.
CALVIN-JOHNSON & WALES POSTMATCH PRESS CONFERENCE