Every moment of struggle and frustration Hillsdale experienced during this 2012 season was blasted away with a kill by the team’s lone senior at the most important moment of this season.
A high-powered kill by Charger senior Lauren Grover over the middle of the net clinched a 3-1 victory for Hillsdale in Thursday’s NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Quarterfinal match against Grand Valley State.
Grand Valley State’s season ends with a 25-8 overall record.
There was a bit of drama over whether the Chargers would be able to qualify for postseason play at all, given their .500 record during the regular season. But a combination of an incredibly high strength of schedule rating, along with some key wins over teams ranked close to them in the region, enabled Hillsdale to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the eighth time in the past nine years.
From the very start of the match, the Chargers played like a team not feeling fortunate to be in the postseason, but expecting to do damage in the postseason. Hillsdale’s passing and positional play were exceptional from the opening set through the end of the match, and some of its younger players stepped up to play big at the season’s biggest moments.
Hillsdale held a 17-11 lead in the first set, but let it slip away as the Lakers rallied to take a 1-0 lead with a 27-25 win. The Chargers rebounded impressively in the second set, leading by as many as 10 at one time, and knotted the match with a 25-20 win. The Chargers were even more dominant in the third set with a 25-17 win. Hillsdale closed out GVSU’s season with a 25-20 victory in set four.
This was the third straight time the Chargers have matched up against the Lakers, with GVSU winning the regular season finale Nov. 10, and the first round GLIAC Tournament match on Nov. 14. But with two weeks to prepare, Hillsdale came out rested and confident.
After the set one loss, coach Chris Gravel made some key lineup adjustments, and the team responded beautifully to those. Sophomore setter Alexis Waugh commanded the position full time, and played outstanding defense to go along with precise setting. Playing in her hometown of Indianapolis, she set a new career-highs with 46 assists and 15 digs in the match.
One of her favorite targets was freshman outside hitter Emily Wolfert, who also set a career-high with 18 kills. Eight of those kills came in the first set, which was a loss, but seemed to set a positive tone for the team that extended throughout the rest of the match. Wolfert had a .295 hitting percentage to go along with eight digs and two block assists. Wolfert didn’t commit her first attack error until set three.
Fellow freshman Haylee Booms played better and better as the match wore on, and she had seven kills and a team-high six total blocks in her NCAA postseason debut. Booms was particularly effective in set two when the Chargers were able to wrest control of the match from the Lakers. She had four kills and four blocks in the second set.
Supporting the team’s excellent back-row play was sophomore libero Bailey Lindner, who led the Chargers with 25 digs. Eleven of those digs came in the first set, and her passing was the first important ingredient in Hillsdale’s offense running as well as it did. Sophomore Kat Carpenter stepped up with some key points in the fourth set and had seven kills in the match.
Junior Caitlin Kopmeyer, playing in her sixth career NCAA match, was consistent all the way through the match with 11 kills and 16 digs. Many of her kills seemed to come at important times, either halting a Laker rally, or kills that came off long rallies where both teams dug up balls all over the court.
But in the end, Grover stepped up with an All-American caliber performance with 11 kills, a .364 hitting percentage and four total blocks (one solo). Grover has now played in 10 NCAA Tournament matches, most of any player in school history, and Hillsdale has a 7-3 record in those matches.
Hillsdale hit .201 as a team compared to .098 for Grand Valley State, and had 13 more assists than the Lakers, a testament to its offensive effectiveness. This was the first-ever NCAA tournament meeting between these two longtime conference rivals.