Hillsdale College volleyball won its first-ever G-MAC tournament on Saturday, November 18, overcoming the Findlay Oilers in a hard-fought 3 – 1 championship victory at the Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena.
This is the fourth conference championship the Chargers have won in program history. Their success extended their winning streak to 21 matches and improved their overall record to 28 – 3.
“We just took the tournament one game at a time and played as a team,” junior rightside hitter and G-MAC Player of the Year Paige VanderWall said. “It was important for us to treat each game as a normal game instead of part of a special conference tournament.”
Hillsdale began tournament play with a 3 – 0 sweep of the Davis & Elkins Senators on Thursday, November 16.
Head coach Chris Gravel said that a deep bench was important to Hillsdale’s success in the tournament, and that was on display against the Senators — every player in the line-up saw time on the court.
Freshman middle hitter Allyssa Van Wienen made seven kills for a personal hitting percentage of .600. VanderWall made eight kills of her own for a .417, and supplied eight digs for the team. Senior outside hitter Jackie Langer achieved a career-best hitting percentage of .889, making eight kills on nine attempts.
Langer was awarded conference player of the week for her performance in the tournament.
“She’s so deserving of it,” VanderWall said. “She has been such a consistent offensive weapon for us as well as a great defensive player.”
The next day, the Chargers overcame the Walsh Cavaliers 3 – 1 to advance to the tournament finals.
Langer led the Chargers’ offense again with a season-high 22 kills. Junior outside hitter Kara Vyletel followed with 13 kills and six digs of her own. VanderWall also performed well, scoring 12 kills and 15 digs. Sophomore middle hitter Hannah Gates also made 12 kills, a new career-high. Overall, the team had 68 kills and a .284 hitting percentage to Walsh’s 33 and .085.
Freshman setter Lindsey Mertz also played well against the Cavaliers, with three kills, 11 digs, and 55 assists. Mertz was awarded freshman of the year by the conference office, making her the third player in Hillsdale history to win this distinction.
“Our future looks bright, thanks in part to our freshmen,” head coach Chris Gravel said. “The upperclassmen have done a great job assimilating the young players to the program.”
The Chargers clinched the conference title the following Saturday, defeating Findlay 3 – 1.
The opening set of the match did not go Hillsdale’s way — Findlay won it 25 – 22. The Chargers rallied after that to win the next three sets 25 – 14, 25 – 17, and 26 – 24.
“The two biggest things that made the difference this tournament,” freshman libero Madie Schider said, “were our teamwork and our will to win.”
Hillsdale’s defense showed both of those qualities against Findlay. Sophomore libero Taylor Wiese had 22 digs to lead the defense, followed by Mertz with 14 digs of her own and 44 assists. Schider also contributed to Hillsdale’s back row, making six digs and scoring a service ace.
Blocking was another strong element of the Chargers’ defense. Findlay made four during the match, while Hillsdale made 11 total. Van Wienen had six block assists, followed by Gates with four.
VanderWall once again led the team’s offense, with 15 kills and a .378. Langer had 11 kills, eight of which came in the critical fourth set, and Van Wienen made 10.
Hillsdale will face Findlay a fourth time this season, in the NCAA regional quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.
“Honestly, we’re making very few changes in how we’re preparing for regionals,” Gravel said. “We’ve got to stay cool and just continue going at it in practice.”
The winner of Thursday afternoon’s match will progress to the regional semifinal and play the winner of a Rockhurst-Bellarmine matchup.
VanderWall said that the team is confident looking ahead to the regional tournament.
“We’ve played Findlay already,” she said. “We’re going to use what we’ve learned about them to play tough and pick out their weaknesses.”