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Volleyball sisters shape Calvin's program'
By Chaz Amidon

Lauren DeGrootMore than 150 miles inland from the California coastline — a mecca for America’s beach volleyball circuit — the De Groot sisters started a league of their own.

It began as a new family activity when Alicia, the eldest of the sisterly trio, entered her first season of organized volleyball in eighth grade. Quickly, though, the De Groots’ Tulare dairy farm evolved into a bellicose backyard war zone where the losers ate grass — compliments of their older brother, David — and the winners fortified themselves in the bathroom to avoid a post-game fracas.

For the past 12 seasons, the Calvin volleyball program has been fueled with that fiery De Groot spirit.

“I want to finish my last year as strong as I can and have as much fun as possible and try not to think about how this will be the last year my family can watch me play for Calvin,” said Lauren, prior to the season’s opening.

The completion of the 2008 season punctuated the end of a 12-year stretch where a De Groot sister — beginning with Alicia in 1997, continuing with Kristin and culminating with Lauren —  has played for Calvin, a program that claimed two of the last three MIAA championships. In fact, during the De Groot dynasty, the Knights have never finished lower than second place in the league standings and have combined to win 136 of 156 conference games (.872 win percentage).

DeGroot FamilyCalvin coach Amber Warners, who instructed both Lauren and Kristin throughout her five-year tenure, believes that much of the Knights’ supremacy over the years has come from the siblings’ unquenchable desire to win.

“They are just fierce competitors on the court, and I think that’s the thing I’m going to miss most from them,” said Warners. “We would not have ever had the success we had; All-Americans would not have been All-Americans if it had not been for a large part of their help.”

After Kristin set a school record for digs in 2004, Lauren stepped in the following season and smashed her sister’s benchmark. Not only was she named the MIAA Defensive Player of the Year, she was honored as the league’s Freshman of the Year.

“We’re not competitive like that,” laughed Lauren, about breaking the record. “I mean, we’re four years apart and we never had to fight each other for a position; we never played on the same team. (Kristin) was happy for me; we’re always cheering for each other.”

As a libero for three years, Lauren anchored the league’s top defensive team — Calvin led the MIAA in digs last season with 1,290 — and helped guide the Knights to a pair of conference championships, while her sisters combined to play on one first-place squad.

Lauren’s collegiate career hit a turning point when she opted to leave Calvin after her sophomore season, returning home in order to transfer to Fresno Pacific. The decision was short lived, however, as she transferred back to Calvin just in time for the start of the 2007 school year.

“I felt like at first, I was forced to go to Calvin, fulfilling my parents’ dreams,” said Lauren. “I thought of (attending Calvin) as something I had to do, like there was no choice.

“After I experienced playing with my new teammates, I knew what I was missing out on back here. I missed playing here. So I made a quick decision to come back to Calvin, and I’m very, very thankful. I had a great year last year, and I finally started enjoying college.”

In her final season, Lauren stepped into a new role for the Knights, taking over setting duties as the position was vacant after the graduation of four-year All-MIAA honoree Katie Zondervan.

When the 2009 season rolls around, there won’t be another De Groot freshman to fill Lauren’s void. Lauren’s parents, Ken and Jeannette, won’t be making their annual trip to Grand Rapids to watch one of their daughters play volleyball for the Maroon and Gold.

Still the family agrees it has been a good run.

“I think it shows that you can have more than one family member play a sport and be that good at it,” said Lauren. “It’s a family event to go to. I’m happy my family had the opportunity to do this for so many years.

“It’s awesome to say we all played four years of volleyball, and we’re all four years apart. It just worked out perfectly.”

You can also read about Rebecca Kamp, Calvin volleyball player, who was named NCAA II Freshman of the Year.