The Grand Rapids Community College volleyball team won the first women’s National Junior College Athletic Association Championship in the college’s history.
On Nov. 17 at Owens Community College in Perrysburg, Ohio, ranked No. 2 in the nation, the Raiders found themselves down two sets to zero (25-27, 20-25) in the semifinals against Parkland Community College (Champaign, Ill.), on the brink of elimination.
“After we lost the second game, we had the whole team come together and huddle up before they came back to the bench,” said Head Coach Chip Will. “ I don’t really know what was said other than Nicole and Molly, both the captains, told the kids they weren’t going out like this.”
Trailing 14-13 in the fifth and final set, the Raiders left it all on the court. All-Tournament Player award winner, sophomore outside hitter Kourtney Wolters knocked in a kill to tie the match at 14-14. She would add one more to give the Raiders a 15-14 lead. Sophomore middle-blocker Amy Vander Wal sealed the win with a ferocious kill to end an emotional comeback.
The Raiders won the last three sets (25-21, 25-17, 16-14) to advance to the national championship match against No. 1 seed Cowley Community College (Arkansas City, Kan.).
National Championship Match
After the comeback, the Raiders had momentum and confidence going into the national championship match against Cowley on Nov. 18.
The Raiders trailed late into the first set 11-21.
“There was really no magic potion, no magic words that were said other than the belief by having all sophomores believe we can win every single point,” Will said. “We talked about it all year… Every single point matters.”
After the time out, the Raiders never looked back. They went on to win in three straight sets (25-20, 25-23, 26-24).
Although excited and honored to win the championship, Will was still critical of his team’s play.
“We didn’t play extremely well, but well enough,” Will said. “We didn’t pass very well, serve very well; we just had to fight, claw our way back and play great defense.”
Sophomore middle-backer Hannah Geelhoed praised the attitude of the team entering the national tournament. “We were pretty calm entering the tournament, surprisingly, but very prepared,” she said.
Will, along with his three assistant coaches, Staci Rupp Johnson, Joe Murray and Megan Kulak, prepared relentlessly in the weeks leading up to the national tournament. Will even hired a scout to give the Raiders a competitive edge.
Identical twin sisters Kaitlyn and Kourtney Wolters, along with Amy Vander Wal, were named to NJCAA’s Division II All-Tournament Team. Kaitlyn was named tournament MVP and Will was named Coach of the Year.
“It’s a true testament to our coaching staff,” Will said. “I’m the one who gets the plaque… but when it comes down to it, it was each person that made an imprint on our program.”
Kaitlyn was overjoyed about the win. “Winning the national title is unlike any other feeling in the world,” she said. “I am so proud to call this team my family. This is a great group of girls and I couldn’t imagine sharing this significant event with anyone else.”
Kourtney echoed those sentiments. “Our volleyball team is more like a family. I absolutely love our teammates this year. We have grown so much over the past year. It’s unreal.”
Sophomore middle-backer Molly Maynard credited Will’s ability to bring the team together off the court. “Chip had us do a lot of team bonding activities… It was the experiences off the court that made our chemistry on the court so great,” Maynard said.
The Raiders finished the season with a 39-1 overall record. The only loss on the season came at the hands of Glendale (Arz.) Community College in the Scottsdale Classic on Sept. 7. After dropping the match, the Raiders won a remarkable 30 straight matches, including a 37 set win streak, and finished 118-14 in sets against remaining opponents en route to the national championship.
During Will’s six-year tenure at GRCC, the team has reached the national championship in five of his six seasons. The Raiders have won the state championship four times and were regional champions five times. His overall record is 141-22 while coaching the Raiders.