by Alan Babbitt
Ryann Stutz capitalized on opportunities created by attempts to defend the dangerous middle hitters of the Hope College volleyball team.
The junior from Kalamazoo, Michigan (Parchment HS) sparked the 14th-ranked Flying Dutch to a 3-0 victory against Alma College in Friday's semifinals of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Tournament.
An outside hitter, Stutz recorded a career-high 14 kills to help Hope win 25-20, 27-25, 25-12 and advance to Saturday's 7 p.m. championship match at Calvin College.
Hope (25-6 overall) will face top-ranked Calvin College, a 3-0 semifinal winner vs. Albion College Friday night.
"She was awesome," head coach Becky Schmidt said of Stutz. "She was aggressive but not forcing it. I thought Adair Cutler did a great job of putting the ball in good spots for her, allowing Ryann to be really aggressive.
"Other teams are focusing on our middles, which is a good strategy. That's going to open for opportunities for our pin hitters. Ryann really took advantage."
Stutz, pictured, committed only one hitting error and finished with a .464 hitting percentage. She also recorded two blocks.
Outside hitter Katie Rietberg of Holland, Michigan (West Ottawa) added seven kills.
Cutler, of East Lansing, Michigan (Lansing Christian), and fellow setter Tracy Westra of Clarendon Hills, Illinois (Timothy Christian) each contributed 19 assists.
A Rietberg service ace and Ditzenberger kills accounted for the final two points in the decisive second set against Alma (19-8).
Hope overcame one set point by scoring the final three points.
"We weren't playing that well in the second set, but we continued to give ourselves changes with some tough defense and keeping the ball off the floor," Schmidt said.
This is Hope's 13th consecutive appearance in the championship game of the MIAA Tournament and 16th overall.
"We're still growing. We're still learning. Every opportunity to play a really high level of volleyball is an opportunity to figure out what we need to do to be at our best," Schmidt said. "It will be a fun challenge."