The Hillsdale College women’s volleyball team exploded into the 2017 season last weekend, going undefeated in its home-opening tournament at the Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena.
The Chargers lost two sets in their opening match against Michigan Tech on Thursday, but they quickly rallied and won the match. For the remainder of the weekend, they dispatched foe after foe without losing a single set to Indianapolis, Saginaw Valley, or Glenville State.
“This weekend shows we have depth,” head coach Chris Gravel said. “Everyone on the bench is a possible contributor on game day.”
Junior outside hitter Kara Vyletel was one of the biggest contributors to the team’s victories this weekend. She was awarded tournament MVP for her 50 total kills and .262 hitting percentage.
Vyletel echoed Gravel’s praise for the team’s strong overall performance this weekend, noting especially the cohesion of the newest players on the team.
“The freshmen have been amazing,” she said. “I am so excited they are here and can’t wait to see what else they bring to the team. Each of them brings something unique, and I see so much potential in all of them.”
Sophomore libero Taylor Wiese was named libero of the tournament, with 77 digs over the weekend. She also praised the freshmen on the team, particularly the selflessness and resilience they have displayed early in the season.
“I think that all the freshmen are good additions to the team, and they all fit in really well,” she said. “We tried a lot of new things this weekend and they all did great and are super fun to play next to.”
Freshman middle hitter Alyssa Van Wienen made an impressive debut for Hillsdale with 36 kills throughout the tournament. Her .392 hitting percentage currently leads the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, a feat which helped her earn G-MAC Player of the Week.
“Being G-MAC Player of the Week is very humbling,” Van Wienen said. “Volleyball is a team sport, through and through, and it reflects so well on my team to be chosen for this award. I would not have been able to play as well as I did without the sets I was given from my setter, or the passes my setter was given.”
Van Wienen said she chose to play for Hillsdale College because of the team’s close-knit relationships and devotion to athletic excellence — both of which she said paid dividends at this weekend’s tournament.
“All of us are dedicated to making the person next to us the best version of themselves that they can be,” she said. “The freshmen are trying to ask the question, ‘How can I help make my teammates better?’ as much as everyone else on the team has.”
Van Wienen commented that the team’s goal this season is simply to win as many matches as possible, and that each match and each practice is an opportunity to improve on the last one.
“Each time we step on the court, we are getting better,” she said. “Basically we’ve adopted this mindset where if we are not getting better, we are getting worse… Between the players, it’s truly a family, one that accepts and embraces people for who they are.”
Ultimately, Van Wienen credited her team for pushing her to do her absolute best during this tournament and setting her up for success both on and off the court.
“G-MAC Player of the Week is as much an award for me as it is for the rest of my team and coaches,” she said. “I would never have come near to receiving it had it not been for all of them.”
Other players with strong performances included junior right side hitter Paige VanderWall, who had a .250 hitting percentage, and sophomores Dani Jones and Veronica O’Connor, who set career highs for kills in a single match — seven and five respectively, against Glenville State. Another sophomore, outside hitter Emily Lachmann, served four aces and tallied 14 kills over the course of the tournament.
“Our team chemistry is so strong right now. We all get along well, show our passion, and play for each other. We have a strong group of girls,” Vyletel said. “Right now we’re still working out some kinks, but once we continue to strengthen our connections with each other and get more comfortable running more complex plays, the season will only get better.”
This weekend, the Chargers will play four matches in Erie, Pennsylvania against St. Michael’s and Gannon on Friday, and Glenville State and Mercyhurst on Saturday.