It is a common occurrence for athletic teams to set pre-season goals. For the Hope men's tennis team this spring it was focusing on a mission.
The motivational message on the back of each player's shirt spelled it out -- beat perennial MIAA tennis power Kalamazoo College for the first time in five decades.
An impossible task? No Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) team had beaten the Hornets in the last 241 dual matches dating back to 1962, when Hope accomplished what then was viewed as a major achievement because it was Kalamazoo's first loss since 1936.
Kalamazoo was 396-1 in the MIAA over the past 67 seasons heading into the April 15 match, which was being played in the Hornets' own Stowe Stadium.
All season long, Hope coach Steve Gorno had hinted that this might be the year. Quite frankly, Flying Dutchmen fans had heard that before. The fact that Hope had not even scored more than a single point in a match against Kalamazoo in 41 years was cause enough for more pessimism and than optimism.
Undaunted, the Flying Dutchmen put history aside and wrote their own chapter, pulling off not just a victory, but an overwhelming triumph by topping the Hornets 7-2.
"Considering that we hadn't beaten Kalamazoo for 41 years, we entered the match with amazing confidence," Gorno told the Detroit Free Press. "It was some of the best college tennis I've ever witnessed. Some will call this a miracle. I call it a team giving its all."
With the longest winning streak by any amateur, high school, college or professional team in America coming to an end, the stunning victory was mentioned in several national publications, including Sports Illustrated.
This single accomplishment was representative of another outstanding year in intercollegiate athletics as Hope for the third consecutive year swept all three all-sports awards of the MIAA. Hope won for a record 25th time the Commissioner's Cup for having the best cumulative performance during 2002-03 in both men's and women's sport. The men's and women's all-sports awards were also won by impressive margins.
Hope captured conference championships in women's basketball, women's swimming and baseball, and co-championships in men's soccer, men's basketball and men's tennis.
Honored as the outstanding senior athletes were Amanda Kerkstra of Grandville, Mich., and Chad Carlson of Holland, Mich.
The recipient of the John Schouten Award, Kerkstra achieved All-America distinction as a four-year letterwinner in basketball. Carlson, who was presented the Otto van der Velde All-Campus Award, also lettered four years in basketball. His father, Robert '75, had also received the van der Velde award.
The Flying Dutchmen captured their sixth MIAA championship in 10 years under coach Stu Fritz, posting a 16-2 league record and overall 20-17 mark. The teams appeared in the NCAA Division III tournament for the third time since 1998, but lost twice in the Mideast Regional.
Senior outfielder Mike Van Beek of Hudsonville, Mich., was voted the league's most valuable player. An all-MIAA honoree for three years, Van Beek had an amazing 100 percent slugging average in conference games. Voted to the All-Mideast Region first team, Van Beek ended as Hope's career leader in several categories. A history major, he was also named to the Verizon Academic All-District team.
Joining Van Beek on the All-MIAA first team were senior first baseman B.J. Maas of Jenison, Mich., senior shortstop Casey Glass of Hudsonville, Mich., senior outfielder Kyle Blackport of Grand Rapids, Mich., and senior pitcher Matt Widenmier of Midland, Mich.
The Flying Dutchmen had to share the MIAA men's seasonal championship when Kalamazoo won the conference tournament. The outcome came down to the final match on the court, a three-setter won by the Hornets.
Senior Dan Mann of Spring Lake, Mich., was voted the MIAA's most valuable player. He ended his career as Hope's winningest men's tennis player with 126 victories.
Mann and junior teammate Kevney Dugan of Holland competed in the Division III national doubles tournament, advancing to the quarterfinals. Mann and Dugan were unique among today's collegiate athletes, having competed at Hope in two sports: Mann in football and Dugan in soccer as well as tennis.
Mann, Dugan and senior Matt Bradley of Hastings, Mich., were voted to the All-MIAA first team. Bradley was also presented the league's Stowe Sportsmanship Award.
The Flying Dutch finished fourth in the women's MIAA tennis standings. Freshman Annaliese Fox of Alma, Mich., captured the first flight singles championship and was voted All-MIAA first team.
Track & Field
Hope athletes were MIAA champions in five events as the Flying Dutch finished second in the women's standings while the Flying Dutchmen were third. Senior Ed Perez of Hopkins, Mich., won the 400-meter hurdles for the third time in his career. Emily Schlitz of Potterville, Mich., repeated as champion in the women's javelin while junior Christy Watkin of Holland was a double winner, capturing the long jump for the second time and the triple jump. Senior Brooke Oosting of Grand Rapids, Mich., captured the 400-meter dash.
The Flying Dutch finished fifth in the MIAA standings while posting an overall 17-14 record.
Senior pitcher Andrea Adams of Fairgrove, Mich., and junior shortstop Kelly Kraft of Brown City, Mich., were voted to the All-MIAA first team. A two-time All-MIAA honoree, Adams set a career Hope pitching record for strikeouts (398).
Senior Emily Colenbrander of Holland finished 31st in a field of 59 competitors at the NCAA Division III women's golf championship, averaging 87 strokes a round over the 72-hole tournament.