Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and while there were some obstacles along the way, this Hillsdale College volleyball team would not be denied.
The Chargers won the Great Midwest Athletic Conference Tournament championship Saturday afternoon, 3-1 over the University of Findlay in front of nearly 700 fans at the Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena. It is the program's fourth conference tournament championship in its history and first since 2011. This was the Chargers' first season in the G-MAC, and they won the conference title in its first run through the G-MAC.
Findlay played very well through long stretches of the match and made Hillsdale work for everything. The Oilers pulled out a 25-22 win in the first set to take a 1-0 lead. But the Chargers got cleaner offensive play and served more aggressively to easily win sets two and three 25-14 and 25-17. Set four was as closely played as one could be, with neither team able to build a long scoring run. The set went to extra points after the Oilers tied the set at 24. That's when the G-MAC Player of the Year stepped in.
Junior Paige VanderWall was the best player in the conference during the season and was the best player on the court during this match. Her sixth kill of the fourth set put the Chargers ahead 25-24. Findlay had a hitting error to clinch the title for Hillsdale.
VanderWall led all players with 15 kills and had a .378 hitting percentage in the match. She committed just one hitting error in 37 attempts and was on target throughout the match, particularly when the title was on the line late in the fourth set.
Both defenses were very tough on each offense, which were the top two offenses in the conference during the season. Findlay hit .107 in the match and was held to a .000 hitting percentage in the second set when the Chargers helped turn the tide of the match. In one sequence, Findlay blocked four straigh Hillsdale hitting attempts as the Chargers tried to get through the Oilers' stingy block.
Senior Jackie Langer also stepped up huge in the fourth set and turned around a difficult start to the match. At one point she had 3 kills and 5 errors but turned that around and finished the match with 11 kills against 7 errors, meaning she generated 8 kills and 2 errors over the last half of the match. Another veteran player stepped up at crunch time for the Chargers.
Freshman middle hitter Allyssa Van Wienen also got better as the match went along, picking up 10 kills with 6 block assists. Sophomore Hannah Gates was also terrific up front with 5 kills and 4 block assists.
Freshman Madie Schider was subbed into the match as a back row specialist and did a terrific job of serving, defensive coverage and setting from the back. She had 6 digs and a service ace, a subtle contribution that helped keep the Chargers moving on offense and defense.
Freshman setter Lindsey Mertz had 44 assists and 14 assists in a gutty effort for Hillsdale. Sophomore libero Taylor Wiese had 22 digs, a number that doesn't do justice to the hard hits she absorbed from the Oilers that she converted into two or three-option passes for her teammates.
Hillsdale will next play in the Midwest Regional Tournament starting Nov. 30 at a site yet to be determined.