Lake Erie sure didn't make it easy. But no matter how you slice it, the Hillsdale College volleyball team will be playing for a championship Saturday night.
The Chargers defeated the Storm 3-1 in a Great Midwest Athletic Conference Tournament Semifinal match before more than 500 fans at the Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena. The win makes Hillsdale 24-6 overall on the season.
Hillsdale, for the second year in a row, will face the University of Findlay for the 2018 conference tournament title. This year's confrontation will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The Chargers won the match by scores of 25-16, 23-25, 25-11 and 25-22. As one-sided as two of the sets were, it was a chore for the conference's top seed to advance.
Lake Erie has been a tenacious defensive team all year and that was on full display in this contest. The Storm continually frustrated the Chargers with their ability to dig up very hard-hit balls, and keep long rallies going. Lake Erie seemed to come out on the favorable end of many of those long rallies, using off-speed shots and impressive effort to score key points at key times.
But one element the Storm could not contain was Hillsdale College senior Paige VanderWall.
Less than 24 hours after being honored as the G-MAC Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, VanderWall showed why she's the best this league has to offer with another unbelievable performance.
VanderWall had 25 kills, including 9 in a set three performance that was unlike any seen in the incredibly successful history of Charger volleyball.
The Storm scrapped out a 25-23 win in set 2 to even the match at 1 apiece. That apparently didn't siit well with the left-handed right-side hitter, who decided enough was enough. She had each of the first five points for Hillsdale in set 3, all of them on kills, to help the team out to a fast 5-1 start, erasing any momentum Lake Erie hoped to carry over into the third set.
To put her 9 third-set kills into perspective: That is more than double VanderWall's season average of 4.05 kills per set, a total that was #1 in the G-MAC through the regular season.
But VanderWall was far from alone in turning superlative performances for Hillsdale. Sophomore middle hitter Allyssa Van Wienen connected on a season-high 16 kills with a .536 hitting percentage. She committed just one error in her 28 attempts and consistently hit over the top of Lake Erie's block all night.
Serving up those kills to VanderWall and Van Wienen was sophomore setter Lindsey Mertz, who put together a great match. She notched a career-high 61 assists, which breaks down to 15 assists per set. Mertz also led the conference in assists per set this year with a shade over 12. So her 15 assists per set? Yeah, pretty incredible.
Hillsdale was plagued by hitting errors in the one set it lost, with a team hitting percentage of just .156 (16 kills, 9 errors) in the set. But that got corrected quickly, as Hillsdale hit .486 and .250 in the final two sets, committing a total of just 5 hitting errors in that span.
Junior libero Taylor Wiese had 30 digs to lead all players, the third time she has crossed the 30-dig barrier in a match this year. Senior Kara Vyletel had a powerful 11 kills for Hillsdale, and Hannah Gates added 7 kills and 5 block assists.
VanderWall and Mertz each had double-doubles, with 25 kills.16 digs and 61 assists/11 digs, respectively.
PHOTO: MaryKate Drews