Playing three nationally ranked teams in the season's first weekend served as a severe test for the Hillsdale College volleyball team. And the CHargers showed they were more than worthy of being counted among the best in Division II.
Saturday's action at the Ferris State Tournament saw the Chargers match up against two teams in the top 21. In the first match, the Chargers swept #17 Winona State 3-0. In the final match of the tournament, the Chargers went head-to-head with the event host Bulldogs. Earlier in the tournament, Ferris State swept defending national champion Concordia-St. Paul. Hillsdale battled hard, but lost a 3-1 decision to Ferris State, leaving the Chargers at 2-2 on the season.
In the sweep of the Warriors to start the day, the Chargers needed an 8-0 run to pull off a dramatic 25-23 win in the opening set. Junior libero Taylor Wiese was right in the middle of that rally, delivering four service aces as part of that set-ending 8-0 run.
Hillsdale led throughout the rest of the match, winning sets two and three by scores of 25-19 and 25-21.
Serving was a big factor in the match. In addition to the six aces Hillsdale produced, Winona State committed 8 serving errors, giving the Chargers easy points.
Senior Paige VanderWall led the offensive attack with 15 kills, hitting .303 with 8 digs and 4 block assists. Sophomore Allyssa Van Wienen had 8 kills and 4 block assists while sophomore Maddie Clark continued her strong start with 7 kills.
The tournament nightcap was a classic battle between two teams who have dominated winning like few other in the Midwest Region in recent years. The Bulldogs enjoy one of the best homecourt advantages in all of Division II, and showed why with a 25-17 win in the first set. But the Chargers matched the Bulldogs point for point the rest of the way, with the other set scores going 25-23, 22-25 and 25-22. After that first set, Ferris State outscored Hillsdale by a grand total of two points, and while the Chargers are disappointed with the loss, playing such a good team after three long days of intense tournament play, and playing that team so tight, bodes well for this group that has championship aspirations.
Hillsdale was held to a team hitting percentage of .087, but the Chargers found other ways to score, led primarily by its front row blocking. The team had one solo block and a total of 22 block assists, led by 6 from junior middle hitter Hannah Gates. Van Wienen added 5 total blocks while senior Kara Vyletel added 4.
Vyletel led the attackers with 14 kills, while Clark had 8. Junior Emily Lachmann came off the bench to pick up 4 kills in crunch time for the Chargers.
Wiese was all over the court defensively with a season-high 29 digs for Hillsdale. Mertz added 37 assists in the match.