NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Enveloped in the swell of warmth unique to a national-championship victory, Hope coach Becky Schmidt sat amid her five seniors and beamed.
“It’s impossible to describe the amount of pride that I feel in these women, and the other 15 in our program,” Schmidt said on Monday afternoon, the Division III trophy perched at the end of the interview table.
Still, Schmidt and her Flying Dutch quintet, championship caps on their heads, shreds of net around their necks, spent their next few glorious minutes trying to do just that -- verbalize their stunning five-set victory against Emory.Words like “will” and “poise” and “fight” often came to the fore. “Devastated” appeared as well, a nod to the memory of Hope’s emotional state this time last year when it was swept from the national quarterfinals on its own floor in Holland, Michigan.
In the end, however, Amy VanderStoep, the Holland girl who stayed home to attend Hope, put it best.
“I think that we all just knew this is it, bring it now, or bring it never,” said VanderStoep, who capped the game of Hope’s season with the game of her career. “I think we all brought it.”
The Flying Dutch (34-2) brought it all right, and after a 15-8 decision in the final set, they captured their first national title in their first national-title game.
VanderStoep crushed 19 kills, her most ever, and had eight blocks to lead an inspired Hope effort that needed every ounce of it to defeat the unyielding Eagles (39-4), who fell behind early in each set.
Thirteen points were all that separated the squads before the decisive final set. Emory rallied through the middle of the first set to win 25-21. The Eagles, playing without senior hitter Cat McGrath due to illness, saw similar surges fall just short in the next two sets, 25-21 and 25-22.
But then, with defeat hovering at 9-17 in the fourth, Emory unleashed a rousing 17-7 finish for a 26-24 victory that forced the final championship race to 15 points.
“They’re a very experienced group; Hope has been working a long time for this goal,” said Emory coach Jenny McDowell, whose team won the 2008 national title and lost in the 2010 final.
“They’re a super physical team, very well coached. We had a team over there battling just as hard as we were. Congratulations to them.”
Ultimately, it was Hope’s all-senior front line that won the day. Aside from VanderStoep’s huge effort, Anna Lynch had 16 kills, including the point that ended the match.
Jillian Sommerville added seven efficient kills for a team-best .312 attack percentage.
And on the outside, Jenna Grasmeyer, Hope’s three-time first-team All-American, finished her career by being named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Grasmeyer cracked 22 kills against just two attack errors, and added four blocks. Perhaps no Grasmeyer point was more critical than in the fifth set, during yet another rally by the indefatigable Eagles.
Hope jumped to a 7-0 lead. But Emory somehow produced the next five points, a surge snapped when Grasmeyer, spying a hole in the middle of the Eagles’ defense, deftly pushed a ball into the empty spot rather than wind up for a violent kill.
Buoyed, the Flying Dutch won seven of the final 10 points, to the thrill of dozens of Hope fans who traveled to Christopher Newport’s Freeman Center for the tournament.
“It’s been such a journey that I’ve been so blessed to be able to share with these guys up here,” said Grasmeyer, a top high-school recruit from Jenison, Michigan, who spurned scholarship offers for the comfortable fit she found at Hope.
“I’m so glad I chose to go here,’’ Grasmeyer said. “To make history today, it’s incredible.”
And on Monday, four fellow seniors and Schmidt, an 11th-year head coach and a former player for the Flying Dutch, found no words sweeter than those.