NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Most sports fans would define the Calvin’s volleyball program by its two Division III national titles since 2010.
Coach Amber Warners would rather judge her Knights by their total wedding invitations.
“There’s a lot bigger picture here than winning a national championship,” said Warners, who played at the Grand Rapids, Michigan school and is in her 13th season as head coach.
“The last wedding I was at there were 21 volleyball players there. You don’t invite anybody to your wedding you’re not really close to and aren’t great friends with.
“To me, that’s a short example of what our program is like.”
The defending national champion Knights hope to provide a resounding on-court example this weekend at the Freeman Center, on the campus of Christopher Newport.The team attributes much of its success to that tight-knit feeling in the locker room.
“I don't think winning is the reason why I love playing volleyball at Calvin,” said Maggie Kamp, the Knights’ All-American outside hitter. “I think it's because of the girls on the team, the coaching staff and how supportive everyone is.
“I mean winning is nice, but I don't think that's the main focus of our program.”
One of seven coaches to win multiple Division III volleyball titles, Warners said she never apologizes for wanting to win and recruiting the players to get it done. But not every top prospect fits the demands of her program and the college, she said.
“We’re a Christian liberal arts school,” Warners said. “Faith is a really big part of integration in our team. It's important to me that every player that comes in knows that they're going to be challenged in every area of their life.”
Beginning with Friday’s eight-team national quarterfinals, Calvin will try to become the first team to repeat as champions since Central (Iowa) did it three times from 1998 to 2000.
Top-ranked Calvin (30-3) will play the final match of the quarterfinals at 8 p.m. against the host Captains (34-3).
Calvin enters on a run of 17 consecutive victories since a September loss to Hope that the Knights played with freshman setter Jenna Lodewyk still recovering from an ankle injury. Lodewyk proved to be an important part of the Knights success, finishing the regular season second in the country in assists per set (11.28).
Still, Kamp said it wasn’t until recently that the Knights, who list 11 freshmen, jelled to the point of playing “Calvin ball.”
“I think all the kinks are pretty much worked out and we’re excited about this weekend,” she said.
First-time host Christopher Newport is no stranger to the quarterfinals. The No. 9 Captains are in the national quarterfinal for the fifth time in six years.
Though they are hardly alone in their familiarity with this deep stage of the tournament. Six teams in this season's quarterfinal were also in the round of eight in 2013.
One of the tournament's returning quarterfinalists, Wisconsin Stevens-Point (32-4), made it as far as the semifinals last year and launches Friday’s action with a 12:30 p.m. match against a Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (27-6) squad that is making its first appearance in the quarterfinals.
Emory (37-3), another semifinalist last year, meets Williams (28-4) at 3 p.m. The Ephs are in the round of eight for the first time since 2008.
Then at 5:30 p.m., No. 2 Hope (31-2), which has lost only to Calvin, meets Clarkson (37-3), a quarterfinalist for the third consecutive year.
Following Friday's matches, play will resume on Saturday for the semifinal round.