For the third time in seven years, the Calvin women’s volleyball team scaled the summit of Division III, capturing the national title this past November on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Under the direction of head coach Amber Warners, the Knights downed Washington University of St. Louis in the national final in three sets in front of an enthusiastic group of Calvin fans.

The 2016 Calvin women’s volleyball team had much to cheer for as the Knights finished with a season record of 33-1.

Calvin swept through the MIAA regular season unbeaten at 16-0, wrapping up its sixth consecutive MIAA regular-season title while also ascending to the No. 1 ranking in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III Top 25 poll. Included in the regular-season run were a pair of victories over rival Hope, the second of which went to five sets at Van Noord Arena.

Just one week later, Hope turned the tables on the top-ranked Knights, upsetting Calvin in five sets on Calvin’s home court.

The title run

A loss to its rival could have been deflating for Calvin, but instead the Knights found new energy, ripping off NCAA III Regional Tournament wins over the University of Pitt-Bradford and DePauw University (Greencastle, Indiana) at Van Noord Arena.

In the regional final, Calvin faced a familiar opponent: Millikin University (Decatur, Illinois). The visiting Big Blue proved to be a scrappy foe, but the Knights were able to pick up their second victory of the year over Millikin to claim a regional title and advance to a national quarterfinal match against No. 5 Emory in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The quarterfinal match proved to be a classic, with the Knights overcoming a 2-sets-to-1 deficit by winning set four 25-21 and set five 15-9. The win was Calvin’s third over Emory in NCAA III Tournament play.

Next up was a semifinal meeting against an upset-minded Northwestern University of St. Paul team. Calvin curtailed the upset plans, downing the Eagles 28-26, 25-18, 25-17.

A national championship date with Washington University beckoned, and the Knights responded with a convincing performance, defeating the Bears 25-21, 25-21, 25-21. Sophomore Anna Kamp (Orland Park, Illinois) had 13 kills in the championship win, while freshman Sarah DeVries (Grand Rapids, Michigan) had 10 kills and senior Laura Danhoff (Willard, Ohio) scored eight kills.

Measuring success

“When people ask me how you measure success, I say it’s when your seniors give absolutely everything and walk away and they can’t give anymore,” said Warners. “I don’t just mean that on the court; people see us about 5 percent of the time in our season. What these women have given is just unbelievable. I am really proud of the women they are, I was really proud of their fight; we asked them to just green light go and lay it out there, and I thought they did that.”

Danhoff was named the Most Outstanding Player at the championships. Joining her on the All-Tournament Team were DeVries and junior setter Jenna Lodewyk (Villa Park, Illinois).

A first-team Division III All-American, Danhoff joined Kelly Bos (Grand Rapids, Michigan) as one of two seniors who were members of Calvin’s 2013 national-title team as freshmen.

Also the 2016 MIAA Most Valuable Player, Danhoff was one of three AVCA Division III All-Americans on the Calvin squad this fall, as Kamp was a first-team selection and Lodewyk a second-team honoree. Kamp became the fifth Kamp sister to win a national volleyball title at Calvin, as sisters Rebecca and Lizzie were on Calvin’s 2010 title team and sisters Stacey and Maggie members of its 2013 national championship squad.

There were several other family volleyball ties as well, as Lodewyk became the second member of her extended family to win a national title at Calvin: Her uncle Mark Lodewyk was a member of Calvin’s 1992 national championship men’s basketball team, while her mother, Kim (Lautenbach) Lodewyk, was a member of Calvin’s 1984 national semifinalist volleyball squad. Like Jenna Lodewyk, Sarah DeVries took one more step in the national tournament than her mother, Betsy (Wilgenburg) DeVries, who was the starting setter on Calvin’s 1992 national semifinalist volleyball squad. In the case of junior defensive specialist Emily Blankespoor, she was able to play for her aunt—head coach Amber (Blankespoor) Warners.

“This team was a joy to coach,” Warners said in reflecting upon the season. “They were steady and believed in each other. Right from our opening retreat, they learned how to be open and vulnerable with one another. That built a strong trust on and off the court. They treated each other like family, and that made all the difference with our season.”

Graphic featuring three men's soccer players kicking soccer balls.

Men's soccer also battles

Meanwhile, the Calvin men’s soccer team put together a season for the history books this fall and came within inches of reaching the summit for a national title.

Under the leadership of head coach Ryan Souders, Calvin finished the 2016 season with a season record of 23-3-0, capturing an unprecedented 10th consecutive MIAA regular-season title with “a 13-1-0 conference record.

Using a high-powered offensive attack, Calvin then won the MIAA tournament title by defeating Albion 7-1 in the MIAA tournament semifinals and Alma 4-2 in the MIAA tournament final.

The MIAA tournament title lifted Calvin into the NCAA III Tournament for the 11th time in 13 years, and in familiar fashion, the Knights were sent on the road in NCAA III Tournament play.

Stunning upset

Calvin responded with 1-0 victories over Ohio Northern (Ada, Ohio) and Carnegie Mellon (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) to claim its second consecutive regional title but was given an unenviable task in traveling to fourth-ranked and perennial powerhouse Messiah (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania) for the sectional round of the tournament. In the Round of 16, however, Calvin pulled off one of the biggest victories in program history, stunning host Messiah 2-1 in double overtime, with sophomore Bobby McCaw (Dubuque, Iowa) scoring the equalizer in the second half and sophomore Jacob Witte (Grand Rapids, Michigan) scoring the game-winner in the second overtime.

“The win over Mesiah was absolutely huge for us because we have so much respect for their program”Ryan Souders

“It was an incredible win,” Souders reflected on the win over the Falcons. “We were down 1-0 at halftime and could have been down even more. We were completely outplayed in the first half, but to the credit of our guys, they regrouped and realized that they could compete with Messiah and continued to fight. The win over Messiah was absolutely huge for us because we have so much respect for their program.”

The following evening, Calvin defeated Franklin and Marshall (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) 4-1 in a driving rainstorm. McCaw scored the game-winner to extend his goal-scoring streak to six games.

The victory also lifted Calvin into the NCAA III semifinals for the second consecutive year and for the fourth time in program history.

Calvin’s semifinal opponent was Brandeis University (Waltham, Massachusetts) in a match played on the campus of Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. In a physical match, Calvin prevailed 1-0 with junior Micah Beard (Otsego, Michigan) kicking in the game-winning goal on a scramble in front of the net late in the second half.

Classic Contest

The following afternoon Calvin faced Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts) in the national championship final, and the contest proved to be a classic. The national championship appearance was Calvin’s third in program history, with the Knights also reaching the finals in 2009 and 2011.

Each side had a handful of quality scoring chances, but the goalkeepers—which included junior Nate Van Ryn (Grandville, Michigan)—came up with clutch save after clutch save. With just 6:24 left in the second overtime, Tufts finally broke the deadlock, redirecting a shot into the net off a corner kick, giving the Jumbos the 1-0 victory and their second national championship in three years.

“I thought it was a great game. We are obviously gutted, maybe even devastated to be on the underside of it, but that’s what you want a national championship game to look like,” Souders said after the game. “That’s a great (Tufts) team. There’s a reason they are champions two of the last three years. I thought our guys created chances. I felt like we did enough to win the game, but they got a break, got a set piece, found a really small hole in our defense over the course of 104 minutes and finished the chance. Congrats to Tufts. Well-earned. It leaves us wanting, obviously, but I’m really proud of our guys. They gave a great 104 minutes of effort, and I could not have asked anything more from them.”

Players recognized

Prior to the national semifinal, senior Stephan Hooker (Hudsonville, Michigan) was named a first-team Division III All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), while Vegter was named to the second team. Vegter, senior Isky Van Doorne (Calgary, Alberta) and sophomore Jacob Witte were all named to the NCAA III Finals All-Tournament team.

Calvin finished second in the final NSCAA Division III Top 25 poll, and three weeks upon concluding its season, the program was honored with the NSCAA Division III Silver Division Team Ethics and Sportsmanship Award for receiving just five yellow cards and no red cards in 26 games played.

“I’m really proud of this team accomplishment,” said Souders. “It is great to see that teams can be successful on the field and still play clean. Achieving this award has been one of our team goals, and we are glad to have reached it.”

Souders said the success of the season was multifaceted. “I think you have to look first at the strong Christian institutional values that the Calvin men’s soccer program is based upon,” he said. “That’s the foundation of our success no matter what we do on the field. We are also grateful for the strong tradition of soccer at Calvin that goes back many years before my arrival. Our team owes a lot to the alumni that helped make this program into what it is today.

“We also had a wonderful group of young men that bought into our motto, which is ‘One Spirit.’ Our guys lived that theme this season, and it showed in our results on and off the field.”