The Golden Bears of Concordia-St. Paul are the gold standard of Division II volleyball. Nine national championships since 2007 is ample proof of that.
And the Hillsdale College Chargers just took them down.
Over the years, the Charger volleyball program has had a number of signature wins. But it will be hard to top the one it had Friday afternoon in its 2019 season opener. Hillsdale defeated fifth-ranked Concordia-St. Paul 3-2 in a thrilling match to open up the Terrace Hotel Classic, on the campus of Florida Southern College in Lakeland.
Hillsdale never trailed in the match, opening up with a 25-22 win in the first set. The Golden Bears were on the verge of going down 0-2, but rallied to post a 26-24 win in set two. The Chargers regained the lead thanks to a 25-21 win in the third set. A 25-20 CSP win in set four tied it up again, but the Chargers prevailed thanks to a 15-11 victory in the fifth set.
This was the first five-set match the Chargers had played since the 2017 NCAA Division II regional quarterfinal loss to Findlay. But the pressure of playing a fifth set against the marquee program in the country didn't get to the Chargers, who played solid two-way volleyball throughout to record this most impressive victory.
Junior middle hitter Allyssa Van Wienen played what can only be described as an All-American match, leading all players with a career-high 21 kills and 7 total blocks, 2 of them solo. She had a .452 hitting percentage and added 4 digs in a magnificent performance against a team that typically has at least one All-American middle hitter of its own.
But Van Wienen wasn't the only one recording a career match. Junior outside hitter Maddie Clark stepped forward also notching a career-high in kills with 15, including the match-clinching point in set five. Defensively she contributed 11 digs, tying junior Madie Schider for the team lead in that category.
Junior setter Lindsey Mertz was on target as usual, giving out 46 assists while recording 5 kills, 7 digs and 2 blocks. Her ball distribution helped Hillsdale to a .242 team hitting percentage. While that number won't be a season-high for this team, it's especially impressive considering the opponent.
The Golden Bears were forced into 36 hitting errors, compared to just 20 for the Chargers, providing a key statistical edge to Hillsdale in this matchup. CSP hit .198 as a team, more than 40 points worse than Hillsdale. The Chargers also outblocked the Golden Bears 18-14, and Concordia-St. Paul committed 9 serving errors, out of character for a supremely talented team that rarely makes that many mistakes in one match.
An awesome day for Charger volleyball concluded with a gritty 3-1 victory over Florida Southern College in Lakeland at the end of the first day of competition at the Terrace Hotel Classic.
Hillsdale, 2-0 on the season, knocked off a pair of national powerhouses on this first day of the season, and used a well-balanced effort in both the front and back rows to do it.
Against the Moccasins in the nightcap, four players achieved career-highs in digs: Madie Schider (27), Karoline Shelton (19), Maddie Clark (14) and Audrey Riley (13). The Chargers were superior defensively, recording 93 digs as a team, its most in a match in over a year. Junior setter Lindsey Mertz added 13 digs, giving Hillsdale an impressive five players in double figures in that department.
Hillsdale won sets one and two by scores of 25-21 and 25-15. The Chargers used a 6-1 run to end the first set and kept rolling into set two, manhandling a big and talented Florida Southern squad. The Moccasins took a quick 4-0 lead in set three and made it stand in a 25-21 win.
Florida Southern also started out set four strong, jumping out to an 8-2 lead, its biggest lead of the night. But the sparkling play of Shelton and junior Allyssa Van Wienen helped Hillsdale to a match-ending 23-12 run, clinching the win.
Shelton's 13 digs were a career high, and she committed just two hitting errors, an impressive number given her total attempts and the size of the Mocs' front row block.
Van Wienen capped an incredible day by leading Hillsdale with 16 kills to go along with 5 digs and 3 blocks.
Clark added 12 kills while senior Hannah Gates gave Hillsdale some timely points in the fourth set, finishing with 9 kills and 4 blocks. Freshman middle hitter Megan Kolp also provided some clutch play with a kill and 3 blocks in the fourth set.
Mertz had 47 assists to go along with her 13 digs, and Schider was terrific in her new role as libero, blowing away her previous career high in digs by six.
Hillsdale held Florida Southern to a hitting percentage of .094, and the Moccasins hit .071 in set two and .073 in set four.
PHOTO: Todd Lancaster