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Calvin/Hope Volleyball Squads Team up For Preseason Race Through Holland

Monday, August 26, 2013

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Story By Calvin Sports Information Director Jeff Febus/Photos by Hope Sports Information Director Alan Babbitt

So what do a pair of top five nationally ranked conference rivals do to prepare for the upcoming season? In the case of the Calvin and Hope volleyball teams, it meant getting together for a preseason mixer based on the CBS “Amazing Race” television series. CBS Amazing Race website

On a sunswept afternoon, this past Friday, the two rivals not only met up for a mixer but also joined together to form eight teams that competed in a scavenger hunt competition in downtown Holland. Each team was given a list of items to find at a variety of downtown Holland merchant stores. Teams were able to check off each completed leg of the race by checking in through Twitter, using hashtags referring to the competition, the merchant store and each schools volleyball twitter accounts.;

The winning team included the fivesome of (senior) Megan Rietema and (freshman) Laura Danhoff of Calvin and (junior) Jillian Sommerville, (freshman) Anna Vande Bunte and (freshman) Alexis Thompson of Hope.

Yet the competition was not about producing a winning team but instead was about producing camaraderie between the two teams. The genesis of the event began last November when Calvin was competing in the NCAA Division III Championships at Hope’s DeVos Fieldhouse.

“Last year during the national championships I went over to the hotel where Calvin was staying,” Hope volleyball coach Becky Schmidt said. “I had breakfast with (Calvin head coach) Amber (Warners).  I was looking for different types of opportunities to bring the two teams together.”

Schmidt and Warners are both volleyball alums of their respective institutions. Schmidt was an All-American middle hitter at Hope in the mid 1990’s while Warners was a three-time MIAA MVP at Calvin as a setter in the late 1980’s.  According to Schmidt, their respective playing experiences included healthy relationships with their rivals at Calvin and Hope.

“As players, Amber and I both had the opportunity to value the rivalry and relationships when those two teams got to know each other a bit more,” said Schmidt who also serves as a faculty member in Hope’s department of kinesiology.  “We wanted that same thing for our players so we said: Let’s try to do something between the two teams and make it happen.”

As a faculty member in Calvin’s department of kinesiology, Warners had experience leading Calvin student groups for off-campus January Interim courses based on the framework of the CBS Amazing Race television series. Schmidt and Warners quickly agreed to use Warners’ prior experience to formulate an afternoon race through the streets of Holland.

According to Schmidt, the details came together quickly. With the help of Hope’s development staff and the creativity of Warners and Schmidt, connections with downtown merchants in Holland were quickly made and the race course was set to go.

Teams raced through the streets of Holland and finally made their way to the upper loft of the New Holland Brewing Co. to check in with their final results while also gathering for a post-race pizza dinner. Smiles were abundant and players intermingled at tables.

“Becky and I thought this would be a way to make the rivalry healthier and better by having the players get to know each other as people and compete on the same team for a change,” Warners said.

“It was a great event and I have to thank Becky, her staff and her players in particular for helping make this happen. Without them, this event would not have been the success that it was.”

Calvin senior libero Kristen Zietse agreed.

“I think we were a little nervous at first not knowing what to expect but Hope was awesome in breaking the ice and making us feel comfortable. This event was in their town and on their turf and they really made us feel welcome. It was fun and we found out how much we have in common.”

Hope senior middle hitter Mari Schoolmaster said that the event worked smoothly and will make the rivalry between the two schools even better. “The Hope-Calvin rivalry is always there, especially in volleyball,” Schoolmaster said. “The two teams are so highly ranked and located within a half hour of each other. It’s always good competition when we meet. Coach hit us with the initial idea early on and we thought that this would be a situation might be a little awkward but the truth is we have so many things in common. This event was a chance to highlight the common trait and emphasize the rivalry in a healthy way. “

Sommerville was one of the players with a healthy smile on her face in the post-race gathering. “It was so much fun sprinting through the streets and finding our clues,” Sommerville said.  “Our (winning) team had two people from Calvin and three from Hope.  It was a completely different experience, and I think it will add something more to the rivalry when we play each other. I think both teams will be even more into it and won’t be as tense because we know the people on the other side of the net.”
A First Team Division III All-American last year, Rietema recently had the opportunity to tour with a group of Division II and Division III All-Americans for a week of volleyball in Costa Rica. One of her teammates during the trip was recently graduated Hope All-American Greer Bratschie.

“The Costa Rica trip was a life-changing experience and getting a chance to know Greer better as a teammate was a big part of that experience,” Rietema said. “When Coach (Warners) brought up the idea of this race, I was all for it because I knew the potential for camaraderie between the two teams was there.”

The amazing race event also came at the conclusion of a busy week of practices and preseason conditioning and provided a necessary break for both teams. “This event came at the perfect time,” first-year Calvin assistant coach Katie Harvey said. “We have some tired legs right now and something like this helps break up the monotony and celebrate volleyball at the same time.”
A final added twist to the event was a trivia contest on the history of the Reformed Church of America (RCA) and Christian Reformed Church (CRC) with Hope affiliated with the RCA and Calvin affiliated with the CRC. The two denominations were originally one but split in the 19th century. Recent movements however have led to increased collaborations between the two denominations, most notably at Pillar Church that rests on the western edge of the Hope campus. Pillar Church was the original church founded by legendary reformed theologian and pastor Albertus Van Raalte when he led a Dutch immigrant community to settle in Holland. Pillar Church website

Each of the eight teams took part in the trivia contest, led by Pillar Church pastors Jon Brown and Chris DeVos.

“A lot of folks like to refer to the rivalry as the ‘Holy War,’ referring to the split of the RCA and CRC denominations,” Schmidt said. “Now you are seeing the two denominations finding ways to collaborate. In that same spirit, we wanted to have some fun with a trivia contest with the players featured on the two denominations.

As for the upcoming season, Calvin will enter its first match ranked second nationally while Hope is ranked fifth. The two rivals are set to meet first on September 17 at Calvin and then again at Hope on October 18. Calvin and Hope have also met in the MIAA Tournament finals the last four years.

“It’s going to be fun when we meet,” Schmidt said. “I think both teams will have more respect for each other. Not that we didn’t have respect before but now knowing where the opposition is coming from, it deepens that respect even more.”

Warners concurred.

“When you get to know your opponent and enhance your level of respect, it only makes you want to compete that much harder when you meet,” she said. “I see that as a healthy thing. When you bring the best out of your opponent and your opponent does the same for you, that’s what competition is meant to be about.”

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