Nov. 20, 2009

By Justice B. Hill
Special to NCAA.com


UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio – This semifinal game will be one that Hope College sophomore middle hitter Jacie Fiedler won’t forget, even though she has two more years of volleyball left to play.

For Fiedler can never be certain she and her teammates from Hope College (Holland, Mich.) will ever return to the big stage of the NCAA Division III Volleyball Championships. The competition they face along the way is too difficult for such a belief to hold any guarantees.

They want to return, sure. They have the talent to return. But they can have no assurances they will return, which makes this first trip even more memorable for Fiedler.

Although Hope lost a five-set heartbreaker Friday night to Washington University (St. Louis), Fiedler had the Flying Dutch on the verge of a spot in the championship game.

After the first five games of the Division III tournament, nobody had played a better game than Fiedler had. Just ask Washington coach Rich Luenemann, whose team advanced to Saturday’s finals.

“No. 7 caused us problems all day long,” said Luenemann, relieved he was able to find a strategy that beat Hope. “She could very well be the MVP of this whole tournament.”

His remarks weren’t pointless platitudes. Nor were they exaggerations. All anybody had to do to understand what was behind Luenemann’s praise of “No. 7” was to look at her hitting percentages.

Against one of the most respected women’s programs in the country, Fiedler -- old No. 7 -- had 27 kills and game-high 51 attacks. She finished the night with a hitting percentage of .490, an ungodly number for a volleyball player.

But Fiedler would drop that percentage to .190 if she could trade it for a berth in the finals.

“I wanted it so bad,” she said, sitting in an interview with her coach Becky Schmidt and a teammate next to her. “I just wanted to kill the ball every time.”

Schmidt, whose team had beaten Washington in a game earlier this season, said she moved Fiedler from the inside to the outside to give her better angles to attack.

“Certainly, No. 7 is a big hitter,” said Luenemann, as if to salute Schmidt’s strategy.

The strategy did work, because it had Hope within a set of winning and advancing to the finals. But it couldn’t win that final game.

“I’m proud of them,” Schmidt said. “We turned a huge corner with this program. I don’t wanna say tradition now, but I really feel this team can do some really good things like this.”

Her confidence in the future is helped by the fact that she has Fielder back in uniform next season. She and her teammates will be poised to do better than they did this time. They’ll know more of what to expect, and maybe they’ll be able to take that 2-1 lead in sets and turn it into a victory.

That’s the hope -- the hope for Hope College. That players like Fiedler can look into their tomorrow as they replay their today.

“We all did so well in those second and third sets,” said Fiedler, deflecting focus off her play. “We just had so much heart.

“Going out there, everybody did their part so well. They gave me a lot of opportunities. I mean, I think that’s what helped me. I think that we wanted it really bad.”