History was theirs to make, and they would not be denied.
The Hillsdale College volleyball team finished what they started months ago when they clinched the Great Midwest Athletic Conference Tournament championship with a 3-0 win over the University of Findlay before a packed house at the Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena Saturday night.
The win, Hillsdale's fifth conference tournament championship in its history and second in a row, clinches an automatic berth in next week's NCAA Division II Tournament. The team's seeding and playing location will be determined on the selection show, which will be broadcast on NCAA.com at 10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11.
The Chargers (25-6) played at a consistently high level in winning the sets by scores of 25-17, 25-17 and 25-18 over an opponent they are more than familiar with. This was the seventh meeting between these teams over the past two season. Hillsdale won all three contests with its long-time rivals this season, including Saturday's win, the sweetest and most significant of them all.
Findlay is an offensively gifted team who knows how to game plan against a team like Hillsdale, given how often the teams match up with one another. But playing on its home court, defending last year's tournament title and led by a great mix of players, the Chargers were in total control throughout the match and countered great play by the Oilers every time it came up.
Leading the way was senior right side hitter Paige VanderWall, who played the final home match of her brilliant career like it was her last. She totaled 18 kills, 8 digs and a .471 hitting percentages on what can only be described as an MVP performance. Even though she consistently faced double blocks from the Oiler defense, she put down one hard kill after another, splitting the defenders or finding a variety of open floor space across the court, making her hard attacks nearly impossible to dig up despite a Findlay team that played with pride and effort.
She is now just the second player in school history to accumulate 400 kills in a season in the current scoring format (2008-present).
Hillsdale led virtually from start to finish in the first two sets, when it hit .439 and .242 respectively, while holding the Oilers to hitting percentages of .227 and .105. Set 3 was the most competitive, with the Oilers and Chargers playing to seven tie scores. Hillsdale finally shook loose with a 6-0 run that increased its lead from 13-10 to 19-10. Senior Kara Vyletel was the difference in that run, putting down three consecutive kills to cap the run and put Hillsdale on the verge of a championship.
Vyletel was strong and powerful at the net with 11 kills, 4 digs and a solo block. She had a .286 hitting percentage against a defense determined to stop her. But in her final home match, she, like her team, would not be denied.
Sophomore middle hitter Allyssa Van Wienen was tough and reliable with 10 kills, 3 blocks and a .588 hitting percentage. Freshman Karoline Shelton performed well in the highest pressure situation she's faced in her young career with 5 kills and 3 digs.
Sophomore setter Lindsey Mertz directed the offense to a .389 hitting percentage for the match and had 41 kills and 7 digs.
Three players cracked double figures in digs, led by 16 from the conference's finest libero, Taylor Wiese. Her anticipation, coverage and quickness served as a great counter to Findlay's explosive offense throughout the match. Sophomore Madie Schider was excellent in the back row with 10 digs while freshman Maggie DePorre played with calm in her passing with 10 digs.
Next week's venture into the national tournament will be the 11th time Hillsdale has qualified under head coach Chris Gravel.
PHOTO: MaryKate Drews