NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Not long after she claimed her 300th victory as women’s volleyball coach at Hope, Becky Schmidt was asked the inevitable question:
Wouldn’t she love for her Flying Dutch to get a fourth crack at defending Division III champion Calvin, whose campus sits just 27 miles from Hope's, in Saturday’s national semifinals?
On the Freeman Center court beneath the interview room, Calvin at that moment was preparing to close Friday’s national quarterfinal round against host Christopher Newport.
And sure enough, the No. 1 Knights endured a four-set match and a frenzied house of 1,873 fans to create the fifth NCAA tournament match between the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association rivals and the first in three years.
They will meet at 7:30 p.m. ET following the 5 p.m. semifinal between Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Emory.
On Sept. 20 Hope, then ranked No. 1, defeated Calvin at home in three sets. The Knights evened that ledger with a 3-1 victory in their second regular season meeting on Oct. 22. Calvin then won again in Hope's gym in the MIAA tournament final 3-2, rallying from a 2-1 deficit.
That means that in their 32-2 season, the Flying Dutch have lost only to Calvin. Friday, they made short work of Clarkson, winning in three sets 25-16, 25-21, 25-20.
“One of the big things we wanted coming into this part of the tournament was to start off strong and continue playing strong throughout the whole game,” said Hope’s Lauren Hazekamp, the junior setter.
“Coming off those [two] five-sets in our regional tournament, we really wanted to focus on that part of the game and I think that’s something we did ... playing hard from point 1 to 25 all three sets.”
After Calvin (31-3) was pushed hard by the home-standing Captains (25-21, 25-15, 22-25, 25-16), coach Amber Warners said her team’s fortitude under trying circumstances was the difference.
“At this level, that’s what you have to do,” said Warners, whose team’s .383 hitting percentage was powered by outside hitter Maggie Kamp’s 17 kills. “Teams at this level don’t give up very easily. And I think the great teams are the ones that refuse to give in.”
Kamp, named the national player of the year Thursday night, said, “Hope is really great volleyball program, and we play each other so much we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“So I think it really comes down to which team can be there mentally stronger that day, I feel like just keeping it in perspective is going to help our team for [Saturday].”
In their five NCAA tournament matches, Hope has never faced Calvin this close to the finals.
“This says a lot for the MIAA, it says a lot for the Great Lakes region, that we have two teams represented here,” Warners said. “And I think we need to celebrate that no matter who wins and who loses.”
Calvin and Hope are church-affiliated schools and they do not play athletic events on Sundays. Because one of them will make the final, originally scheduled to be played Sunday afternoon, the championship game has been moved to 1 p.m. ET Monday.
As for Saturday’s first semifinal, Wisconsin-Stevens Point coach Abbey Sutherland didn’t just get one eyeful of Emory on Friday.
After scouting the Eagles’ four-set victory against Williams, Sutherland scurried from the Freeman Center bound for her hotel room to watch video of the Eagles, who recorded an imposing .453 hitting percentage.
“You’re impressed watching them,” she said. “Everyone’s really athletic, jumps well, runs off of one foot. But, I mean, I think we can be successful against them.”
Sutherland’s team lost in last year’s semifinals to Cal Lutheran, and she said lessons learned, and frustration earned, from that one could serve her Pointers well Saturday.
“The feeling we got from our loss last year, to me it still stings, and I think it still stings with our returners,” Sutherland said. “We bring that with us [Saturday]. We don’t want to lose. I love to win, and losing, that feeling we don’t want that back.”