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.”