Paige Van­derWall (3) sets the ball for Hannah Gates (11). Regan Meyer | Col­legian

With the home court advantage and an electric crowd, Hillsdale Vol­leyball rolled its way to a G‑MAC cham­pi­onship and a spot in the NCAA tour­nament.

Hillsdale defeated Lake Erie College in the semi­final match Friday night.

“Lake Erie has some impressive defense that really pressed our offense and made a lot of great plays against balls that we’re used to seeing hit the ground,” Van­derwall said.  

The Chargers dropped the second game to the Storm but pulled it together to win 3 – 1. Senior right side Paige Van­derwall said the team got caught up in com­peting point for point with its oppo­nents.

“I think after that second set we realized that if we wanted to win we were going to have to play with a sense of urgency to get the job done,” Van­derwall said.

The Uni­versity of Findlay Oilers beat Walsh Uni­versity in a semi­final match after Hillsdale’s victory over Lake Erie. The Chargers and Oilers then moved onto the cham­pi­onship match Sat­urday night. Charger head coach Chris Gravel said the team was able to play to its strengths and cap­i­talize on Findlay’s weak­nesses.

“We served tough which we needed to do,” Gravel said. “Findlay has the best ace ratio in the con­ference, so we had to be on our game in serve receive. The team talked and com­mu­ni­cated well.”

Gravel said the home court and home crowd worked in the Chargers advantage.

“The crowd was phe­nomenal,” Gravel said. “The guys that come out behind our bench are just crazy and it made for a great atmos­phere and home court advantage. Def­i­nitely part of that victory goes to the crowd.”

Hillsdale had already defeated Findlay twice in the regular season. Van­derwall said they knew the Oilers would bring their “A game.”

“It’s tough to beat a team three times in one season but I think we whole­heartedly accepted that chal­lenge and wanted to play for each other to get a shot at NCAAs,” Van­derwall said.

Findlay won’t be getting that shot. Eight teams in each region make it to the first round of the NCAA tour­nament. A victory in the G‑MAC title match is an auto­matic qual­ifier to the tour­nament. Hillsdale’s victory over Findlay knocked the Oilers out of the running.

“Both teams had to win to move on. Both teams knew that going in,” Gravel said. “It was a high pressure game. It meant even more than the con­ference title; it meant an NCAA berth.”

Gravel said he was proud of his team and how they handled that pressure.

“They were able to stay in the moment and let their training take over,” Gravel said. “That takes everybody on the roster to do. We were doing that in practice and it showed up in the games.”

Not only did the team take home the trophy, but a number of Chargers also took home indi­vidual honors. Paige Van­derwall, Kara Vyletel, Lindsey Mertz, Alyssa Van Wienen, and Taylor Wiese all made G‑MAC First Team, while Hannah Gates made the All Con­ference 2nd team. Head coach Chris Gravel was named Coach of the Year and senior Paige Van­derwall, Player of the Year. The cham­pi­onship match was the last home game of their careers for Van­derwall and Vyletel.

“It’s crazy to think my career is almost over,” Vyletel said. “I’ve been so blessed to have such a great coaching staff and such strong players sur­rounding me. We play for each other everyday and build off each other’s success. I wouldn’t trade anyone on my team for any­thing. I love this group of girls and couldn’t imagine taking this journey with any other group.”

The Chargers travel to Spring­field, Mis­souri for the Midwest Regional Quar­ter­final against Drury Uni­versity. Hillsdale saw the Pan­thers earlier this season at the Midwest Regional Crossover Tour­nament. A win against the Pan­thers pits the Chargers against the winner of the Lewis University/Michigan Tech Uni­versity match. A loss sees Hillsdale’s season come to an end.

“They’re all good,” Gravel said. “We’re all pretty even, I would say. Overall, they’ve done a little bit better. When we played at the Crossover, these are a lot of the teams that we lost to. We’re looking forward to getting another oppor­tunity.”