It was the longest volleyball season in Hillsdale College’s history, but the Charger women are still not satisfied.
The California State University-San Bernardino volleyball team ended the Chargers season on Friday night in a tight 3 – 2 match in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II National Championships. San Bernardino was the No. 1 seed and was undefeated until the final round when Concordia University-St. Paul defeated them for the national title.
“We felt we could’ve had that game,” head coach Chris Gravel said. “There is a want for more. I would be upset if there wasn’t a want for more. But you take away a lot of pride, and I want [the team] to feel that, too.”
Senior libero Morgan Podkul said the experience was incredible.
“Finishing as a senior, you want that national championship,” she said. “But we couldn’t take away from the experience. We have to be proud of where we went and thankful for all of the support.”
Senior middle hitter Clara Leutheuser said the number of Hillsdale fans that traveled to California was impressive and helped the team tremendously.
“The support we had was unbelievable,” she said. “We had a decent section. The fact that we could hear our fans over the home crowd — which was massive — was amazing.”
In the semifinal match against CSU-San Bernardino, the Coyotes took the first set from the Chargers 25 – 19. With the set tied at 10 – 10, the Coyotes went on a 5 – 0 streak aided by three attack errors from the Chargers. The Chargers trailed the rest of the set.
“We gave them too many points in a row at various times in the game,” Leutheuser said.
Hillsdale responded by taking the next two sets 25 – 22 and 25 – 23. In the second set, the Chargers jumped out to a 6 – 1 lead and led for the remainder.
In the third, the Chargers had another strong start, jumping out to 5 – 1, but the Coyotes followed closely, tied it at 15 – 15, and even held the lead at 19 – 18. With two service aces, senior middle hitter Leutheuser reclaimed the lead for the Chargers, finishing on a 7 – 4 streak.
“We jumped out to the lead and maintained it by focusing on our side of the net and taking care of our responsibilities,” Leutheuser said. “We should’ve won the whole game, though.”
The Coyotes, though, came out strong in the fourth and fifth sets to take the win from the Chargers.
In the fourth, the Coyotes led by two or three points for most of the game. At 20 – 17, the Coyotes went on a 4 – 0 streak to reach set point, and even with a three-point rebound from the Chargers, the Coyotes got that last point to take the fourth set 25 – 20 and push the game into the fifth set.
The Coyotes carried their momentum into the fifth set and took an early lead 5 – 0.
The Chargers couldn’t recover and the Coyotes took the final set, and match, 15 – 6.
“In volleyball it’s so easy for the momentum to switch, and when it’s a matter of 15 points, you don’t have to do a lot wrong to lose it quickly,” Leutheuser said. “We didn’t take charge soon enough and we gave away too many points, and then it was too late to come back.”
Leutheuser said the Coyote’s middle hitter Samantha Middleborn challenged the Chargers with 22 kills during the game.
“Something we could’ve changed was double blocking their middle hitter,” Leutheuser said.
CSU-San Bernardino held the Chargers to a .107 hitting percentage while they kept theirs at .317. The Coyotes also had only 18 attack errors to Hillsdale’s 32.
“They started executing more,” Gravel said. “They just took advantage of their opportunities.”
In the quarterfinals of the national tournament, the Chargers defeated Wheeling-Jesuit University 3 – 0. Even though it was a sweep, the game was tightly played in sets of 25 – 20, 27 – 25, and 25 – 23.
The Chargers commanded the lead for the majority of the time in the first two sets. In the third set, the Cardinals reached their biggest lead at 13 – 10, but the Chargers went on a 6 – 0 run to regain the lead. With the score at 23 – 23, an attack error and a kill by sophomore outside hitter Caitlin Kopmeyer clinched the win for the Chargers.
“They adjusted on defense well,” Gravel said. “They didn’t make anything easy for us.”
It was the first time for both teams to appear at the national tournament, and the nerves affected their execution. Both teams had 18 attack errors. Hillsdale’s hitting percentage was .234 and Wheeling-Jesuit’s was .212.
“The amount of pressure each team felt was greater,” Podkul said. “We were all making errors and making things harder on ourselves.”
The Chargers will have their end-of-the-season banquet this Sunday. The team will graduate seven seniors this year.
“It is bittersweet. Most of the seniors agree that our bodies couldn’t handle much more, but having so many memories with this team makes it hard to say goodbye,” Leutheuser said. “We will be cheering for the team next year and always.”