As often as the Hillsdale College volleyball team has qualified for the NCAA Tournament, it's not an accomplishment to take for granted. An awful lot of great teams and All-American players never experience the thrills that come with postseason play in Division II volleyball.
And yet, more often than not over the past 15 years, Hillsdale is one of those remaining 64 teams who will compete beyond the regular season.
The Chargers qualified for the 2018 NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Volleyball Tournament by virtue of its conference tournament championship, clinched Saturday night. Sunday night, Hillsdale found out it will enter the regionals as the No. 8 seed and travel to Springfield, Missouri for this week's tournament.
Drury University (27-6) is the host school and will serve as the Chargers' opponent. The quarterfinal match between the Chargers and Panthers will take place on Thursday, Nov. 15 at a time yet to be determined.
The regional tournament semifinals will take place Friday and the championship match Saturday. All Midwest Regional matches will be held at Drury University.
Head coach Chris Gravel has built one of the most consistenly successful and respected volleyball programs in all of NCAA Division II. He first arrived to Hillsdale in 1996, inheriting a program that couldn't even be described as in disrepair. One home match had an attendance of three fans. Yes, three. But by his fourth season in 1999, he had taken the Chargers to a GLIAC divisional championship. And since 2004, Hillsdale's name has popped up in the Division II volleyball bracket a remarkable 11 times. No matter how much talent graduates, he finds new talent to maintain the high level of excellence he and associate coach Stephanie Gravel set for the team on a daily basis.
The Chargers are a true national powerhouse in the sport of volleyball, and this week's regional tournament sees that team back on a national stage. This is the second year in a row and third postseason berth in the past four years.
Hillsdale enters the postseason with a 25-6 overall record. The Chargers are on an 11-match winning streak, which culminated in Saturday's decisive 3-0 win over the University of Findlay to win the 2018 G-MAC Tournament championship. The Chargers have dropped only two sets in their current winning streak, and completed a most difficult task - winning back-to-back conference tournament championships. It was Hillsdale's fifth conference tournament title in its history, all coming since 2009.
The other Midwest Regional Tournament matchups include: No. 2 Ferris State vs. No. 7 Ashland, No. 3 Rockhurst vs. No. 6 Illinois-Springfield and No. 4 Lewis vs. No. 5 Michigan Tech. Hillsdale is the lone representative from the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. This will be the first-ever postseason meeting between Hillsdale and Drury.
These two teams met in the first match of the 2018 Midwest Regional Crossover in Indianapolis Oct. 12. The Chargers won set 1 and held a 20-17 lead in set 2 before the Panthers rallied for a 3-1 victory. Hillsdale lost the next day - Oct. 13 - to Ashland, but hasn't dropped a match since then, making it one of the hottest teams to enter the tournament in the region.