Knights jump out to early lead, ultimately fall in national championship
Sometimes expectations can prove difficult. Sometimes pressure causes an uncharacteristic mistake. Sometimes the ball bounces the wrong way.
Whether it was one of these or perhaps a different intricacy of sport on Saturday night, the Knights were unable to claim the national title, falling to University of St. Thomas (UST) in five sets.
In front of a record-breaking crowd at Hope College, St. Thomas made a comeback that very few in the building thought possible after losing the first two sets 13-25 and 17-25. They went on to stun the No. 1-ranked Knights by winning the final three sets 25-18, 25-16, 15-9.
“This sport is one were momentum can shift very quickly,” said Calvin’s head coach Amber Warners. “Sometimes you can’t turn it around.”
Calvin came out looking composed and in control. The pressure of the setting was not an immediate factor as they were seemingly in another league compared to UST. The capacity crowd, largely composed of Calvin supporters, no doubt contributed to that confidence.”
“The crowd was very, very intimidating,” said UST head coach Thanh Pham.
“[The crowd] was definitely to our advantage,” said sophomore Emily Crowe. “I love when they’re there.”
Junior Megan Rietema also appreciated the Calvin supporters, but knew that the winner is not always the team with the loudest crowd.
“When it comes down to it, it’s us on the court and we’ve got to do it,” she said.
After Calvin efficiently did away with UST in the first two sets, it seemed that this would be another routine win for the Knights, who finished the season 31-3.
“You feel good after those first two sets, but you also know you have work to do,” said senior Lizzie Kamp.
The third set finally saw UST wake up with Sara Atkinson laying down hard spikes that caused the Knights all sorts of problems, and Calvin seemed surprised to have so many of their smashes rejected by UST blockers.
“They played extremely well and it flipped,” said Warners about the third set. “It happens in this sport and that’s to their credit. We had a hard time bouncing back.”
Pham said that getting comfortable in the hostile environment was the key to the comeback.
“We knew that wasn’t us out there,” he said about the first two sets. “We just had to find ourselves and find a way to fight through it.”
The Knights never recovered and played the remainder of the match desperately searching for a way to break UST’s defense.
Warners said that she had talked to the team about staying in the present moment, and believed the team played well in their system, but that they just couldn’t answer the swing.
“If there’s been one issue with this team, it’s getting them to believe how good they actually are. We have very humble athletes that don’t always know their talent,” said Warners.
The match was a rollercoaster of emotions for the Knights who came so close to a second national title for Calvin.
“It was a very tough loss, obviously, but it was also an extremely well-played match against two really tough teams,” said Nancy Meyer, Calvin’s women’s athletic director.
“When we handled them easily in the first set, I didn’t think for one minute that this match was going to be a pushover. They’re too good, so it didn’t surprise me that they came back,” she continued.
President Le Roy, also in attendance, was proud of the Knights for their efforts.
“I’m so proud of these women. They were so impressive. They never gave up and they were so positive on the court,” he said. “I’m sad, but somebody had to win and somebody had to lose.”
Kamp, Rietema and Crowe earned spots on the all-tournament team.