They would not be denied.
Mounting an extraordinary effort in its biggest match of the season, the Hillsdale College volleyball team made a statement to top all statements with a 3-0 win over the University of Findlay Friday night at the Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena.
The win makes Hillsdale the co-champions of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference West Division, but more importantly, gives the team the No. 1 seed in next week's conference tournament. Hillsdale and Findlay both finished the regular season with 15-2 conference records, but the Chargers won the tiebreaker by virtue of its 5-3 set score advantage over Findlay in the regular season series.
Hillsdale won the sets by scores of 25-19, 25-18 and 25-17, defeating the Oilers for the first time in two years.
Senior Jackie Langer was honored in a pre-match ceremony on Senior Night, then went out and was the catalyst for this win. She had a match-high 14 kills, had a .400 hitting percentage and 11 digs, a huge factor both in the front row and the back row. The team was looking to Langer during an impressive run in the third set. She delivered back-to-back kills to give Hillsdale an early 12-3 lead. Building a big early lead, while up 2-0 in the match, was crucial for the Chargers in playing their way to the sweep.
Freshman setter Lindsey Mertz played with the cool of a veteran, as she has all season. Playing in front of the biggest crowd to watch a Hillsdale College volleyball match in half a decade, Mertz directed the team to a .402 hitting percentage, handing out 46 assists, averaging more than 15 assists per set, a career-high in that mark for a truly special player.
There were other special players bringing the heat in this match. Junior Paige VanderWall was an assassin, picking up 12 kills, 7 digs and 2 service aces. She often delivered her attacks at the peak of the ball and hit it over the Findlay block consistently all night long. In a big game, VanderWall handled the pressure admirably.
Junior Kara Vyletel added 11 kills and hit .381, but her back-row passing was superb throughout the match. Findlay identified her as someone to serve to, but Vyletel answered the bell with consistently good passes, keeping Hillsdale in-system throughout the match.
Another element Hillsdale brought was its block. Not a prolific blocking team this season, Hillsdale's front row players were aggrssive in seeking out the Oiler hitters and delivered several highlight-film points off the block. Sophomore Hannah Gates and Mertz had 4 block assists apiece, while freshman Allyssa Van Wienen had 3 and VanderWall 2. Big blocks of the type Hillsdale got were important to keep the huge crowd involved and momentum on its side throughout the match.
Sophomore libero Taylor Wiese was outstanding once again with 13 digs and was pinpoint on her serve receive passes. Findlay came into the match as the G-MAC's top serving team. But the Chargers turned that strength into a weakness. Hillsdale had 10 service aces as a team, while committing just 2 reception errors and 3 serving errors in the entire match.
This will mark the first time Hillsdale will host a conference tournament since 2010. The quarterfinals will begin Thursday at noon, with the semifinals set for Friday and the championship match Saturday. All matches will be played at Hillsdale College.