Season of Hope! Flying Dutch finally get their DIII national championship

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

For a third consecutive year, the season ended with a win for Hope College.

But this time, the Flying Dutch finally got to celebrate.

Hope College used a big offensive burst in the third quarter and was tough on defense in the fourth quarter in beating Wisconsin-Whitewater, 71-58, to win the Division III women's national championship Saturday afternoon at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse in Pittsburgh.

The Hope women's basketball team celebrates its Division III national championship.

It's the third national title in program history, and first since 2006 — but excuse Hope (32-1) if this one feels just a little bit better, given everything that's gone on the last three seasons.

Hope didn't lose a game in the 2019-20 or 2020-21 seasons, but never had a chance to play for a national tittle because of COVID-19. The 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled before Hope's Sweet 16 season; then in 2021, the NCAA canceled Division III championships.

"Closure. It feels really, really, really good," Hope coach Brian Morehouse said during his postgame press conference, the cut net hanging around his neck, and all 15 players at the dais. "It feels better than I thought it was gonna feel, and it makes you wonder what the two years before could've been. Because we've been pretty good for the last three years, and we haven't been able to validate them. Maybe we would've won three in a row, but we don't have any control over that.

"We controlled what we could control today. We've had closure today. That's really all we wanted coming into this season. We just wanted a chance ... for good or for bad."

Before this season, Hope players mostly spoke publicly about how the focus was on the future, and not on the past. The Flying Dutch didn't want to give the impression that they were owed anything, despite all that was taken from them.

But every once in a while, a player slipped and acknowledged what the season really meant.

Senior forward Kate Majerus last fall told The News, "This is our time."

And she was right. On Saturday, behind huge games from junior guard Ella McKinney (Haslett) and senior guard Sydney Muller (Grand Rapids Christian), Hope's day had finally arrived. McKinney came off the bench to lead the Flying Dutch with 21 points, and Muller added 18 points. Senior center Olivia Voskuil (Holland Christian) added 11 points.

Voskuil, Muller and senior guard Kenedy Schoonveld (Holland Christian), who before the game was named the national player of the year by D3Hoops.com, each had three steals. Hope had 11 as a team.

"I just came into tonight knowing my teammates had my back," McKinney said. "I knew they had my back and I could go out there and play free and trust them, and I knew that they trusted me."

The game was tied at 34 at the half, before Hope created a bit of separation early in the third quarter, opening with a 6-0 run — Majerus made all six (of her eight for the game). A Muller 3-pointer made it 45-38. Junior guard Claire Baguley (Ada) had a nice spurt that included a bucket, followed by a steal and an assist on a McKinney basket, opening up a 49-40 lead. (Baguley also scored eight).

Wisconsin-Whitewater (28-5), making its second finals appearance and seeking its first title, pulled to within three points early in the fourth quarter, before Hope ran away on offense and locked up on defense. About seven minutes into the final quarter, Wisconsin-Whitewater had scored just four points.

Hope shot 46%, to Wisconsin-Whitewater's 35.71%. Hope shot 53% (15-for-28) in the second half to the delight of a decidedly pro-Hope crowd. Hope won the rebounding battle, 53-42, with 15 offensive boards.

Hope's Sydney Muller drives against Wisconsin-Whitewater during Saturday's national-championship game.

Voskuil added eight rebounds, three assists and a block, after being named first-team Division III All-America by D3Hoops.com. Muller, named the tournament's most outstanding player, had five assists. McKinney also made the all-tournament team, while Saturday leading a bench group (dubbed the "Chaos Crew) that outscored Wisconsin-Whitewater's reserves, 29-2.

Hope's depth and pressure defense were paramount, Wisconsin-Whitewater coach Keri Carollo said. Morehouse, head coach since 1996, called this his best defensive team he's ever had.

"We had seen pressure before, this season, but I think the pressure we saw tonight was just a little different," Carollo said. "There were moments when we handled it well and moments when we didn't, and the moments we didn't, Hope did a great job of capitalizing on those moments.

"Congratulations to Hope and Coach Morehouse. Just a tremendous performance on their part."

For Wisconsin-Whitewater, senior guard Rebekah Schumacher had 13 points, and senior center Johanna Taylor had 12 points and nine rebounds.

Hope, based in Holland, becomes the third DIII women's program with at least three national championships, and it gives the state of Michigan its 11th national title — men or women, any division. Its three national titles broke a tie with Michigan State and Calvin men for most in the state.

The Grand Valley State women are in the Elite Eight in Division II, and play Missouri Western on Monday.

The title caps a magical three-year run for Hope that saw the Flying Dutch go 77-1, with the one loss coming earlier this year to league rival Trine. That snapped Hope's 61-game winning streak, but Hope got revenge, beating Trine in Thursday's national semifinal.

The fifth-year senior class had a record of 130-8 — two in their first, five in their second and none in their third and fourth, despite no chance at a national championship either year.

The Hope women finally got their chance Saturday, and, indeed, it finally was their time.

"I don't know if I have adequate words," said Schoonveld, who grew up watching Hope, where her mom played basketball and where her dad is the athletic director. "Just being able to celebrate with this team is something special, and to be able to celebrate with our parents and fans that have been with us all year.

"It just meant the world to us to be here, and have the opportunity to compete, and celebrate."

State basketball titles

DIVISION I

Men

1979: Michigan State

1989: Michigan

2000: Michigan State

DIVISION II

Men

2018: Ferris State

Women

2006: Grand Valley State

DIVISION III

Men

1992: Calvin

2000: Calvin

Women

1990: Hope

1992: Alma

2006: Hope

2022: Hope

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984