Major comeback wins Calvin’s second volleyball national title in four seasons
It was a familiar scene: DeVos Fieldhouse full of Calvin fans, a volleyball national championship on the line and a major comeback leaving the bitter taste of defeat in the mouths of disappointed players.
But this year, the tables were turned when Calvin came back from a 2-0 set deficit Saturday night to defeat Cal Lutheran and restore to their palates the sweet taste of victory.
After Cal Lutheran won the first two sets 25-20 and 25-12, the Knights fought for the next three sets that would win them the NCAA D-III national title, triumphing 25-22, 25-17 and 20-18.
“Coming from last year, losing in five after winning the first two sets, I knew that we could do it,” sophomore hitter Maggie Kamp said. “I never doubted that our team had it in us.”
Despite the support of a Calvin-dominated crowd, the Knights came out and immediately struggled to find their momentum.
But the 10-minute break after the second set seemed to help them regain their normal rhythm.
“The first thing I said to [the team] was we’ve been in this situation before, flipped and we can flip it back,” Calvin’s head coach Amber Warners said. “I think I’m kind of your normal pessimist in nature, and there wasn’t one time I thought we were going to lose.”
Senior setter Megan Rietema agreed that the break helped shift the energy.
“That re-gathering and being able to come out and play relaxed and play our game really helped turn it around,” Rietema said.
And turn it around, they did. The Knights more than doubled their hitting efficiency from the second to the third set and cut their errors in half.
The final three sets would be a constant back and forth between No. 1 and No. 3 ranked teams, leading to a fifth set with seven total championship points.
“In the end it came to who could put two points together. We slipped in the last millisecond, and that was all it took,” said Cal Lutheran senior Kylie McLogan.
The energy from the crowd seemed to play a large role in the team’s confidence, especially in the final set.
“The crowd didn’t give up on us,” Warners said. “I think they really helped us along when we were down by two [sets].”
Senior libero Kristen Zietse also acknowledged the support, but realized they couldn’t rely on the fans to win them the game.
“Learning from last year helped a lot,” senior libero Kristen Zietse said. “We had basically the exact same situation and we told our entire team [that] we love our crowd but we have to do this ourselves,” Zietse said.
The game finally ended with Rietema’s same left-handed swipe that won the national championship for the Knights in 2010 when she was a freshman.
Rietema and Zietse, the only two seniors on this year’s team, were grateful to bookend their Calvin volleyball career with national titles, as well as end together on the all-tournament team alongside Maggie Kamp.
“[Rietema and Zietse] have worked their tails off for four years,” Warners said tearfully. “They’re as good of people as they are talented. It’s been a real joy to coach them.”
Of the team’s 62 kills, Maggie Kamp had 27 — 19 of which came in the final three sets, which she and Warners agree were the result of being “ticked off.”
“I do play better when I’m pretty mad. After the first two I was pretty [ticked off], so I came back from the first two games and took it to them,” Kamp said.
Rietema led the team with 49 assists, and she and Zietse each contributed to the team’s defense with 23 digs apiece.
In the end, the barn-burning battle gave Calvin their 35th win of the season and a program to be proud of.
“I think anybody that knows our program knows that we kind of look at the winning as the extra icing on the cake, and it’s the inner workings of our team that really make our program special,” Warners said.