GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - On Friday evening, the No. 2 Calvin women's volleyball (28-1) team faced off against the Tigers of DePauw University (25-5) in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Tournament.
Making their 26th appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament, the Knights entered as the top seed in the region, having claimed the MIAA regular season with a perfect 16-0 conference record.
The fourth-seeded Panthers, making their sixth appearance in the NCAA Division III Championship, posted a 24-5 overall regular season record, finishing in second place in the North Coast Athletic Conference regular season and tournament.
The Tigers claimed a four-set victory over Carnegie Mellon University (25-20, 25-20, 21-25, 25-20) on Thursday evening to advance to the regional semifinal round, while the Knights swept the Panthers of Pitt-Bradford University (25-10, 25-14, 25-17) to move on.
The Knights swept the Tigers 25-15, 25-23, 25-18 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Division III National Tournament for the seventh consecutive year.
"I thought DePauw played very scrappy against us, and I didn't ever feel like they gave up," said Calvin head coach Dr. Amber Warners. "I was really happy with our steady play. I was happy with our aggressive serving, our consistent serving, and I thought we did a really nice job in the back line to allow us to do well on the front line."
Sophomore libero Keilahna Castillo (Grandville, Mich./Grandville HS) kicked the match off with back-to-back service aces for the home team. The Panthers answered Castillo with two consecutive points of their own, but the Knights would soon take a three-point lead behind the serve of junior Emily Blankespoor (Grand Rapids, Mich./South Christian HS). The teams would exchange points, but a solo block by DePauw's Haley Bitzer would knot the score at seven. For the next seven points, Calvin would go up by one, only to be answered with a kill by the Panthers. After a kill by DePauw's Morgan Stearley, the scoreboard reading 12-11 in favor of the Knights, the home team began to find its offensive rhythm. Calvin went on a 10-1 run to make the score 22-12, DePauw's lone point coming after it called timeout to halt the Knights' momentum. The Knights would take the first set 25-15.
The second set was closely contested, as the score was tied 14 times.
Fueled by three by three kills courtesy of senior Laura Danhoff (Willard, Ohio/Willard HS), the Knights jumped out to a 5-2 lead early in the second set. With Calvin maintaining a 7-5 lead, the Panthers won a big rally to cut the deficit to one point. A service error by DePauw's Elizabeth Wilson would tie the score at seven. The Panthers would go on to take a 10-9 lead, courtesy of two service aces by junior settler Keegan Kollias. Calvin regained its lead and teams would go back-and-forth in scoring. The Panthers capitalized on a Calvin attack error to go ahead 17-16, forcing a timeout by the Knights. Out of the break, Danhoff slammed down a kill to tie the set. After a DePauw side-out, both teams would score three-straight points, first Calvin, followed by DePauw; the scoreboard now read 21-20 in favor of the Panthers. A dump kill by junior setter Jenna Lodewyk (Villa Park, Ill./Timothy Christian), a service ace by Danhoff and a kill by freshman Sarah DeVries (Grand Rapids, Mich./Northpointe Christian HS) would boost the Knights to a 23-21 advantage. Despite a resilient effort by DePauw, Calvin would claim set two 25-23.
Unwilling to go down easily, DePauw strung together five-straight points early in the third set to take a 5-1 lead. Following a timeout, the Knights answered with three consecutive points, but DePauw came right back with four more points, making the score 9-4 in its favor. However, the Knights' offense ignited as they responded with an 8-0 run to take a 12-9 lead. DePauw scored the next three points, capitalizing on a pair of Calvin errors, but it was the home team who controlled the remainder of the match. Backed by a two kills apiece courtesy of Kamp and DeVries, the Knights would win the next six points to go ahead 18-12. Despite two service errors, Calvin would outscore DePauw 7-6 to close out the set. Kamp was a key asset for the Knights in the third set, heating up at the right time and logging six kills.
Kamp, named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Great Lakes All-Region Team for the first time earlier today, had a solid all-around game, leading all players with 16 kills and also contributing ten digs. Danhoff, also named to the AVCA Great Lakes All-Region Team, finished with 11 kills.
"I thought Anna had a really nice all-around offensive game," said Warners. "I thought she was very consistent and she mixed her shots up, which was really nice."
Lodewyk, a member of the AVCA Great Lakes All-Region Team for the third-straight year, dished out 37 assists in the victory, also contributing seven digs and five kills.
Blankespoor provided a strong defensive base for the Knights, posting a career-high 24 digs, including 12 digs in the first set. Junior Kristen Vyletel (Ann Arbor, MI/Huron HS) and Keilahna Castillo, a forth Calvin player named to the AVCA Great Lakes All-Region Team, finished with 11 and 10 digs, respectively.
"One of the things that Emily has done really well the last several weeks is that she's just steady out there," said Warners. "She stops on defense, and she reads. It's gotten to a point where we just expect the ball to go up when she gets it anywhere near here."
DePauw was led by Morgan Stearley who finished with 14 kills. Keegan Kollias pumped out 25 sets in the loss, while senior libero Rachael Lenderman led the Panthers' defense with 14 digs.
Tomorrow evening at 7:30, the Calvin women's volleyball team will face the Millikin University Big Blue (28-11), the team that the Knights defeated in a thrilling five-set victory in their season opener.
"They're one of the best defensive teams we've seen all year," said Warners. "They have a lot of weapons and are very well-coached and they've played a very tough schedule throughout the year."
Millikin earned its spot in this year's NCAA Division III Volleyball Tournament by winning the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin's regular season crown and conference tournament. The Big Blue posted a 26-11 overall record, playing one of the toughest schedules in Division III, facing 13 nationally ranked teams.
On Friday evening, the Big Blue fended off a comeback rally by the No. 6 Wittenberg Tigers to claim the upset victory in a competitive five-set match (25-14, 25-21, 16-25, 19-25, 19-17). Millikin was led by junior Erin Syversen who finished with 24 kills, 14 digs and four service aces.
"They're going to come in ready," said Warners. "We're going to have to come and play our A game."