November 30, 2012 – Deficits overcome. If there's a two-word phrase to describe this 2012 Hillsdale College volleyball team, that has to be it.
On September 8, this team had a record of 1-7. At 5:45 p.m. Friday, this team trailed Ashland 2-0 in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Semifinals. The Chargers have overcome both and are now, amazingly, in the nation's Sweet 16.
Hillsdale defeated Ashland 3-2 Friday night to advance to its second straight, and second ever, NCAA regional final. The Chargers, 17-15, will face the University of Indianapolis in a rematch of the 2011 regional final at 4 p.m. Saturday at UIndy's Ruth Lily Center.
As the Chargers started the season in a hole, record-wise, they found themselves in a hole in this match, as the Eagles played with startling efficiency and skill in winning the first two sets by scores of 25-18 and 25-15. Ashland hit .324 in the first set and .484 in the second set, and held an 8-2 blocking advantage on the Chargers.
But these young players learned fast, as evidenced by their 11-game winning streak during the regular season, and further evidenced by their composure and resiliency in the biggest match of their careers. Hillsdale slowly took the momentum back with better serve receive passing and court coverage in the third set, and beat the Eagles 25-17.
The momentum only picked up into set four, as the Chargers kept building up their lead bigger and bigger en route to a 25-13 win.
Set five did not remotely resemble any of the first four sets, which were relatively one-sided. Neither team led by more than three points, and there were eight ties in the fifth set. With the match tied at 14-14, freshman Haylee Booms stepped up to deliver the two match-deciding kills and send Hillsdale to the Seet 16.
Booms and fellow freshman Emily Wolfert were indomitable forces in this match, playing well beyond their years. In addition to the two match-clinching points, Booms finished with 10 kills, six block assists and a .333 hitting percentage. She was able to adjust to Ashland's block defense as the match wore on, and she hit balls off the block with great success.
One day after setting a career-high in kills in her postseason debut, Wolfert improved upon that performance with an extraordinary effort. She had 22 kills, eight digs and six block assists and was Hillsdale's go-to player on offense in each of the final three sets.
Junior Caitlin Kopmeyer's experience in these matches – it was her third career regional semifinal match – showed, as she was the picture of calm and control all over the court. She had 11 kills, 20 digs and two key service aces.
Senior Lauren Grover, the leader and example-setter for this team since preseason practice started in August, delivered 10 kills and four block assists for the Chargers. Sophomore Bailey Lindner played at a very high level through all three of Hillsdale's set wins and led the team with 22 digs.
Also setting a career-high for the second day in a row was sophomore setter Alexis Waugh, who dished out 49 assists. Waugh also had seven digs and two block assists.
This match was the first time all season Hillsdale rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win. Through the first two sets of the match, Ashland was outblocking Hillsdale 8-2, but the Chargers held a 9-4 edge in team blocks in the final three sets. AU's team hitting percentage per set dropped from .484 in set two to -.021 in the fourth set.