Volleyball wins regional title in five-set thriller versus Wittenberg


Photo by Chantelle Yazzie.

The Knights never really seemed to be in total control of their game Saturday night, but it wouldn’t matter because in the fifth set — with their season on the line — the Knights delivered.

The No. 1 Calvin’s volleyball team won its second NCAA D-III regional final in three years in front of more than 1,700 fans, defeating No. 2 Wittenberg University 23-25, 25-18, 23-25, 26-24, 15-12.

“We talked about being relentless all day and I think we did that,” said Amber Warners, Calvin’s head coach.

The match lived up to the hype as the top two teams in the country battled for the regional championship for a third year in a row.

“That was a really epic game,” said Wittenberg head coach Paco Labrador.

Wittenberg had eliminated Calvin last year en route to a national championship — no doubt a motivating factor for the Knights.

“Last year was in our minds all game,” said Calvin sophomore Emily Crowe.

The tension was high in Van Noord Arena throughout the match.

“It kind of felt like the national championship,” said Wittenberg junior Andrea Behling.

Warners agreed, saying that the level of competition in this region is higher than anywhere in the country.

“This regional could have been the national championship all weekend,” she said.

The Knights came out hitting strong, but their true game never seemed to come to them. It was an internal battle for the Knights all game long as they made a fair number of unforced errors.

“We were ahead in all the stats except the score,” said Warners, talking about the losses in the first and third sets. “The good thing is, [the team’s] upswing was better than their downswing tonight.”

Indeed, the Knights got it together in a big way for the fifth set, thanks to some superb play from the back row and from Crowe.

“I’ve always loved fifth games because I love being under pressure,” said Crowe.

Calvin had an incredible 18 team blocks compared to Wittenberg’s 8 blocks. Senior Jen Pluymert led the defense with 20 digs while senior Kelly Gordon had 18.

Lizzie Kamp tallied 24 kills on a .352 attacking percentage, while also contributing 15 digs.

Junior Megan Rietema was named most outstanding player in the regional tournament after the game: she finished with an outstanding 13 kills, 51 assists and 15 digs.

The Knights will play in the national quarterfinals on Thursday at Hope College, the home of this year’s national tournament.

“I’m pumped for nationals at Hope this year. It’s kind of like a second home for us,” said Rietema.

The last two years these teams have met in the regional final, the winner has gone on to win the national championship.