An outstanding fall sports season highlighted by superior team performances has put Hope in a familiar position atop the Commissioner's Cup standings of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA).
Hope's athletic program is bidding for a 12th consecutive Commissioner's Cup, which is presented to the member school with the best cumulative performance over an entire school year in the 18 league-sponsored sports for men and women.
The college's sports year is only one-third complete, but the Flying Dutch and Flying Dutchmen have served notice that the Cup won't easily be relinquished. Through the fall season, Hope has a 22-point advantage highlighted by league championships in men's golf and women's cross country. Across the eight fall sports, seven teams finished in second place or higher. A year ago, rival Calvin topped the Cup standings after the fall season by four points. With some outstanding spring-season play, Hope went on to win a record 33rd Cup, edging the college's rival at school-year's end by a mere four points.
The MIAA this year introduced a new approach for determining the league's qualifier to NCAA championship play. Regular-season play now determines the conference champion and a season-ending tournament involving the top four teams in a sport is held with the winner moving on to NCAA play. There were five opportunities for fall teams to qualify and advance. Hope was the only MIAA member to gain all five opportunities.
Coaching milestones were achieved in two sports. Becky Schmidt recorded her 200th victory as Hope's volleyball coach during Homecoming. It was accomplished in just her eighth season. Averaging nearly 26 victories a season, she has a 207-63 (77 percent) mark, won four MIAA championships and made five appearances in the NCAA tournament. Steven Smith, the dean of MIAA men's soccer coaches, posted his 300th all-time win. In 22 seasons he has guided the Flying Dutchmen to a record of 308-100-37 (77 percent), nine MIAA titles and 10 NCAA appearances. Entering the 2011 season, he ranked in the top 20 among the winningest all-time Division III coaches by percentage.
A fall sports highlight came in men's soccer, where the Flying Dutchmen advanced dramatically to the elite eight of the NCAA championships for the first time in school history.
Each of Hope's three victories in the NCAA tournament came in dramatic fashion, off a throw-in, on a corner kick and in a shootout. The Flying Dutchmen were ultimately eliminated in their fourth consecutive single-goal game. Coach Steven Smith's Dutchmen equaled the school record for victories in a season (17-5-4).
Senior goalkeeper Logan Neil of Holland, Mich., was voted the MIAA's most valuable player for a second consecutive year. He was joined on the All-MIAA first team by senior teammates David Whitaker of Vicksburg, Mich., and Shaun Groetsema of Augusta, Mich.
Brothers Logan and Grant Neil brought extra excitement to the soccer pitch. A senior Logan was the goalkeeper, while Grant, a sophomore, started at back. They are the sons of Matt Neil, Hope's men's basketball coach. A two-time MIAA most valuable player, Logan Neil yielded less than a goal per game over his career. Perhaps his most exciting moment came in an unusual dual role during a NCAA Sectional tournament game. With the game on the line in a shootout, Logan first stepped to the penalty shot line and nailed his kick. He then returned to his position in front of the net and turned away a shot by the opponent to give Hope the victory. Grant established his credentials for his ability on throw-ins. His long, accurate throw-ins over the course of the season resulted in eight Flying Dutchmen goals.
The Flying Dutch advanced to the MIAA women's soccer tournament by gaining the tie-breaker after tying with rival Calvin for fourth place in the regular season. Coach Leigh Sears' Dutch were 12-8 overall.
The Flying Dutchmen moved back atop the MIAA men's golf standing. The championship under coach Bob Ebels was Hope's tenth over the past 13 years. It was the comeback effort of the fall season. Hope was in fifth place early in the season and didn't move into first until there were two tournaments remaining. The team's margin of victory at the end was 19 strokes over eight tournaments. Junior Nick Campbell of Saline, Mich., received All-MIAA first-team honors for a third consecutive year, and senior Andy Thomson of Beaver Dam, Wis., was presented the league's sportsmanship award.
In women's golf, coach Greg Stafford's Flying Dutch had their best MIAA ending in eight years with a second-place finish. Achieving All-MIAA first team honors were junior Charlotte Park of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., and freshman Brittany Haight of Otsego, Mich.
Both golf teams are eligible to compete in the NCAA qualifying tournament next spring.
Strong season-ending performances propelled Hope to a league championship in women's cross country and a runner-up finish for the men. With five runners finishing within 18 seconds of one another at the league meet, the Flying Dutch edged defending champion Calvin by three points to claim their first league crown since 2004 and the sixth in school history. Team balance was also an attribute for the Flying Dutchmen, with the top five runners finishing within 47 seconds of one another.
Coached by Mark Northuis '82, the program counted three All-MIAA first team honorees: senior Nathan Love of Midland, Mich., sophomore Sheri McCormack of Holland, Mich., and senior Kate Nelson of Williamston, Mich.
The Flying Dutch went on to qualify as a team for the NCAA championships, where they finished 21st in a field of 32 teams. Nathan Love qualified as an individual for the second consecutive year, finishing 81st in the elite field of 279 runners.
The Flying Dutchmen of coach Dean Kreps enjoyed a comeback season, finishing second in the MIAA standings and posting an overall 7-3 mark, the team's best record since 2001.
Receiving All-MIAA first team honors were senior offensive tackle Josh Droppers of Kalamazoo, Mich., senior defensive lineman Dan Karam of Grosse Point Woods, Mich., sophomore linebacker Tim Klaus of Saugatuck, Mich., and senior defensive back Kyle Warren of Grandville, Mich. Droppers and Warren were each honored for a third consecutive year. For Droppers it was the continuation of a family football tradition. His grandfather, Donald "Doc" Van Hoeven '56, was All-MIAA in 1954; his father, Kurt Droppers '79, was All-MIAA in 1978; and his brother, Jake Droppers '08, was All-MIAA in 2006 and 2007. Who knows what the future holds: Joe Droppers, younger brother of Jake and Josh, was a freshman member of the team this fall. All have been linemen.
An individual season highlight came in the final game and received national recognition when sophomore Santino DiCesare of Dorr, Mich., returned a pass interception the full length of the field for a touchdown. It marked the second time in 102-year history of Hope football that an intercepted pass was returned 100 yards for a TD. The first time was in 1996 by Randy Ames against Adrian.
A rebuilding-season was actually a reloading-year for the Flying Dutch, who were nationally ranked the entire campaign. Finishing second in the MIAA behind rival Calvin, coach Becky Schmidt's Flying Dutch posted a 25-7 overall record and advanced to the NCAA championships for a fourth consecutive year. Receiving All-MIAA first team honors were junior Greer Bratschie of Grand Rapids, Mich., and freshman Jenna Grasmeyer of Hudsonville, Mich. They each received All-Region honors, and Grasmeyer was honored as the MIAA's freshman of the year.