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Family Legacy Continues For DeGroot Family And Calvin Volleyball

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

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By Chaz Amidon ‘09

More 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.

Alicia De Groot

For the past 11 seasons, the Calvin volleyball program has been fueled with that fiery De Groot spirit. Now, following in the footsteps of her two older siblings, Lauren is embarking on her fourth and final season as a Knight.

“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.

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

Calvin coach Amber Warners, who has 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.”

Lauren, a defensive specialist, has had arguably more individual success than her two previous successors.

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. “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.”

Kristin De Groot

As a libero, Lauren has 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 only one first-place squad.

She has finished each of her three seasons as an MIAA Top Five leader in digs, the team leader in service points, and an All-MIAA second team selection.

Still, Lauren remains the most implacable competitor of the sisters.

“I’m used to winning,” said Lauren. “I’m kind of picky, kind of a silent leader, but I can get on people. I’m nice about it, I think. But when people are playing with me, they know I want them to play their best.”

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.”

And because her relocation back to Grand Rapids came on a whim, there was one person willing to take her in for the fall semester: her coach.

“I think, for me, having her with our family, I feel like our relationship is much closer now and there is a level of friendship where I really respect where she’s coming from,” Warners said of her captain. “It was really neat for me to get close with her and see what was going on in her life, with her relationships and school and things like that.”

Lauren and her coach may have a deepened relationship off the court, but Warners’ expectations for her have escalated over the past four seasons – especially this fall, where Warners will look to her senior captain to acclimate an extremely young Calvin team to the pressures of Division III volleyball.

“When I think about the program here at Calvin…freshmen pretty much act and do as the seniors do,” said Warners. “She’s going to be laying the groundwork for the next four years with our (incoming) freshmen.”

Lauren De Groot

Sadly, 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.

Lauren’s sisters, now Alicia VanderTuig and Kristin Zietlow, won’t be hearing about their protégé’s latest win via cell phone.

But during the next three months, Lauren will have a chance to relish the memories of the past 12 seasons – and make some new ones as well.

“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 works out perfectly.”


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