• AJ Moore

More Hope For Olivia Voskuil





Olivia Voskuil had two choices in front of her before the start of this past fall semester.

 

Option A was to return to Hope College and extend her basketball career; a logical choice for this exceptional 6-3 post player. Being back would help the Flying Dutch to continue their winning ways and Voskuil on campus at this Christian-based DIII in Holland, Michigan would have the appearance of regularity at a time when many people are clamoring for such occurrences.

 

There was also option B. That was to begin her post-basketball life by studying engineering at that larger state school to the east in Ann Arbor.

 

She took option A.

 

Great news for coach Brian Morehouse who could once again rely on Voskuil to dominate the low post and hopefully lead Hope to the NCAA Tournament, an earned destination for his program the last two years had those seasons not been cancelled due to COVID-19.

 

Because of pandemic related disruptions, the NCAA allowed all players to have an extra year of eligibility and provided Voskuil the option of continuing her career and hopefully getting a chance to make a deep tournament run in 2022.

 

The graduate work she planned to take on this year at the University of Michigan, that’s been deferred until next year..

 

Voskuil detouring away from graduate school and back to Hope for a fifth season is one of the reasons the number one ranked Flying Dutch are now making NCAA history with their current 56 game winning streak, the longest active streak in all of the NCAA men’s and women’s divisions.

 

Three of Hope’s wins so far this season have come against Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association squads. The other eight MIAA schools likely came into this year with a sense of relief that they no longer had to deal with the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and a WBCA First Team All-American. Those feelings were short lived after Voskuil returned.

 

Morehouse refers to Voskuil as “one of the hardest workers in the history of the program,” and “the best, most instinctual defender I have ever watched.”

 

Adding to their opponents concerns are Kenedy Schoonveld and Sydney Muller, returning for their fifth year for the Flying Dutch as well. With Voskuil, the trio has lost just seven total games over their previous four seasons. Having the opportunity to play with these two for another season under the tutelage of Morehouse made the difficult decision of delaying graduate school easier for Voskuil.

 

“I think back to last year and I was really debating what to do, graduate or come back for one year,” said Voskuil. “I talked to coach [Morehouse] and I could tell how much he cared for all of us as students, people, players, and I thought about how much I care about these players and how this team is really like a family, so I decided I needed to do it for one more year.”



Photos by Steve Herppich

 

At this point, Schoonveld and Voskuil are basically family members after spending so much time together. Both were standout students, and basketball and volleyball players at nearby Holland Christian High School.

 

Morehouse has known both of these local standouts since they were young and felt even back in their grammar school days that they would be good fits for his program.

 

“We have been watching her [Voskuil] since the 6th grade,” said Morehouse, who holds the distinction of eclipsing the 600 win total faster than any other NCAA coach. “She was incredibly athletic with guard type skills in a 6-3 size. And she is a 4.0 student who was interested in one of our school’s top programs; engineering.”

 

Schoonveld believes the long standing relationship between her and Voskuil has helped on and off the court.

 

“Olivia and I have played together since we were freshmen in high school, so about nine years now,” Schoonveld recalled. “I definitely think that has allowed us to be really on the same page on the court. We know where we’re going to be without even looking sometimes. We’ve grown as friends, which has also helped us immensely on the court. We know how each other are wired, so when the ball isn’t going through the hoop or if there are frustrations during the game, we’re on the same page and know what each other needs to hear to get back on track.”

 

Morehouse’s eye for talent is one the reasons he has built one of the most dominant programs in all of DIII women’s basketball. A 1991 graduate of the school, Morehouse has the 2006 national championship and 19 tournament appearances on his impressive resume.

 

The goal of these super seniors that have won so many games over the course of their careers is to get back to an NCAA tournament that will hopefully be played this season. Each of the last two seasons saw all those wins lead to the final accomplishment of back-to-back MIAA championships.

 

Overall, Hope, with an enrollment of just over 3,000 students, has captured that conference crown 19 different times.

 

“Sure I have thought about playing in this year’s NCAA tournament,” Voskuil said. “To play for a national championship is part of the reason I decided to come back to school.”

 

Returning to school was an emotional decision for both Voskuil and Schoonveld.

 

“I remember a moment from last year, when we were both working through decisions on whether or not to come back and play for a 5th year,” said Schoonveld. “We both had been accepted into our dream grad schools at that point. I remember the last week of the season, we had just finished up a practice and I told Olivia I felt like I was leaning toward coming back to play. Olivia immediately began to cry and said that she was feeling the same way. It was a really special moment for us. I think we both had to come to an individual decision, but the thought of being able to go through a 5th year together, along with Sydney Muller, gave us peace of mind and ended up being a huge factor for us in the long run.”

 

This year’s DIII Women’s Final Four will be played at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Besides top ranked Hope, other contenders for the title include Whitman, John Carroll, Amherst, UW-Whitewater, Christopher Newport and Trine.

 

The 2019-20 Hope squad finished the regular season 29-0 and also held the top ranking in the country. They were the only undefeated team before the untimely cancellation of a tournament that had already played two rounds.

 

As would be expected, receiving that news was painful for Voskuil and her teammates to take and a topic that still generates some emotion.

 

“Our team found out the 2020 tournament was cancelled right after a huge win,” said Voskuil, regarding Hope’s 72-69 victory over Illinois Wesleyan in the second round of the tournament. “It was hard to celebrate or feel good about that win because it was overshadowed by the massive weight of knowing we weren’t going to even get a chance at a national championship. We were just devastated. We weren't going to get a chance to prove ourselves.”

 

Then came word the following year; once again, no NCAA tournament would be played.

 

“It hit harder the second time,” said Voskuil. “Because we had convinced ourselves for a year that we would compete in that tournament, but it wasn’t the case.”

 

No wonder that prestigious entrance into the University of Michigan engineering program was placed on hold.

 

Based on the current winning streak, those emotions are behind the Flying Dutch. The magnitude of playing so many games in a row without a loss may get superstitious folks to go into shutdown mode and not even acknowledge the streak. Not the case for Morehouse’s group. It is a topic they embrace and rally around.

 

“We do talk about the winning streak,” said Voskuil. “It is healthy to acknowledge what is happening to us as a team. I don’t think it would be good to ignore something like this and pretend it doesn’t exist.”

 

Besides the statistical output Morehouse can use from Voskuil and the other two returning seniors, this type of mental approach and experience has played a major role in the team’s success this season.

 

“This year has been more of a collaboration with the seniors than ‘coaching’ every possession,” said Morehouse. “Coaches bounce ideas and changes off the group a lot more and they make a lot of changes on the fly on the court without consulting me.”

 

On the court, Voskuil is averaging close to 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks per game. Schoonveld is averaging 10.3 ppg and Muller 8.1.

 

In their matchup against Trine, Voskuil became Hope’s all-time leader in shots blocked with a current total of 219. She has also tallied 935 points over her career. Besides having an affinity for swatting shots away, Voskuil has one for cheese as well.

 

“Vosk has an affection for cheese,” said Schoonveld, when asked what else she thinks her teammate likes besides basketball. “One time we were headed to an away game, and all she had to eat before the game was a couple bites of cheese. About half way through the game, she wasn’t feeling great. All of the sudden all of us on the bench hear Coach Mo yell ‘somebody get Vosk a hot dog!’ A lot of us on that team will never forget that moment.”

 

That’s what happens when two players share so many games and times together; indelible moments regarding dairy products are formed.

 

When this year’s senior night happens on February 5th against St. Mary’s (Ind.), the game plan for the festivities has already been discussed between Voskuil, Schoonveld and Muller.

 

“We had ours last year, so we want to make sure this year’s senior night is all about this year’s seniors, the ones ending their four years,” Voskuil declared.

 

Those other “seniors” include Kasey DeSmit, Kate Majerus and Hannah Smith.

 

However far the Flying Dutch go through the postseason, and her college basketball career comes to an end, Voskuil will make that planned trek to Ann Arbor to study civil and environmental engineering with the hopes of a career designing buildings or bridges. With the poise and intellect Voskuil displays, it’s not a surprise that she wants to take on such a challenging profession. If that happens, this lifelong Michigander wouldn’t mind doing so in some place a little further south.

 

“I love being from and living in Michigan,” said Voskuil. “The winters though, they can be pretty tough.”

 

Those strong feelings about Michigan are part of the main reasons Voskuil stayed in state for school. Not only in state but in-town, as the campus is less than 10 minutes from where she grew up and attended high school.

 

“Hope was the best school for me because I was looking for balance,” said Voskuil. “I wanted a place that balanced academics with sports, with religion and with a social life. I just didn’t want to be totally consumed by basketball and academics.”

 

Those within the Hope athletics community recently had reason to celebrate when they found out one of the school’s most renowned baseball players, Jim Kaat, was finally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame after being so close for a number of years.

 

If the plans behind Voskuil’s rationale for selecting option A come to fruition, then expect an even bigger celebration in Holland come late March.




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