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The Chargers cel­e­brate on the court after their G-MAC tour­nament victory last weekend. (Photo: Todd Lan­caster / Courtesy)

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.”