#WeAreOne: Fall Sports Roundup

 “When one wins, we all win,” Athletic Director Tim Schoonveld ’96 likes to say about Hope’s overall team culture. Since that’s the case, there were a whole lot of collective Hope victories this past fall.

Two Hope College teams won Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association titles, while no team finished below third place in the league during the fall of 2019. On top of that, a total of four Hope squads qualified for NCAA Division III Championships, and Hope hosted two NCAA tournament opening rounds in football and men’s soccer, to boot. 

Individually, five Hope student-athletes earned All-American honors, two more were league MVPs, and 42 total received All-MIAA accolades.

The 27th-ranked Hope College women’s cross country team won
its fifth MIAA championship in a row and qualified for the NCAA Division III Championships for the 10th consecutive year under coach Mark Northuis ’82. The Flying Dutch were led by a freshman Anna Tucker (pictured) of Midland, Michigan, who was runner-up at the MIAA Championships and finished 24th at nationals with a time of 22:00.01. The former result earned Tucker All-MIAA honors and the latter finish made her an All-American, Hope’s ninth all-time  in women’s cross country.

Anna Tucker

Tucker was joined on the All-MIAA First Team by senior Anna Frazee of Watervliet, Michigan, and senior Chelsea Miskelley and junior Jacinda Cole, both of Holland, Michigan. On the All-MIAA Second Team were: Senior Rebecca Duran of Palatine, Illinois, and senior Kelly Peregrine of Traverse City, Michigan.

The Hope College men’s cross country team ran to a tie for third place in the MIAA. The squad was led by sophomore Nick Hoffman of Holland, Michigan who earned All-MIAA Second Team honors. Hoffman finished 14th at the league meet.

Hope College football won its first MIAA championship since 2007 and first outright title since 2006 by going undefeated in league play (7-0) and claiming only its second nine-win season ever (9-2). Under AFCA Region 4 Coach of the Year Peter Stuursma ‘93, the Flying Dutchmen received an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs by virtue of their MIAA crown and played a first-round NCAA Division III Championship game at home at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium. The Flying Dutchmen lost to Wartburg College (Iowa) in that playoffs opener.

Mason Dekker

Nine Hope players were selected to the All-MIAA First Team, including dual league MVPs: Senior quarterback Mason Opple (offense) of Hudsonville, Michigan, and senior defensive back
Mason Dekker  (defense) of Holland, Michigan (pictured top) who was
also made The Associated Press NCAA Division III All-America Second Team. Joining Dekker and Opple on the MIAA First Team were: Senior defensive tackle Jake Babb of Caledonia, Michigan; senior safety Luke Beckhusen of Coldwater, Michigan; senior receiver Christian Bos of Hudsonville, Michigan; senior punter Austin Heeres of Wyoming, Michigan; sophomore running back Kenyea Houston of Chicago, Illinois; senior left tackle Timothy Ivery of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; and, senior center  Zach Smith  (pictured bottom) of Suttons Bay, Michigan. Smith was also named an AFCA and D3football.com First-Team All-American, and the winner of the Rimington Trophy as the best center in NCAA Division III.

Zach Smith

All-MIAA Second Team honorees were: Senior receiver Cooper Cecchini of Hudsonville, Michigan; senior left tackle Noah DeVelder of Grand Rapids, Michigan; junior right tackle Brady Eding of Hamilton, Michigan; junior running back Connor Mellon of Adrian, Michigan; and, sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Purnell of Wyoming, Michigan.

Both men’s and women’s golf took second place in the league. Each will host an MIAA NCAA qualifying round
in the spring due to those finishes. 

On the men’s side, head coach Scott Lokers’ Flying Dutchmen finished the fall season with a league 301.7 stroke average. Freshman Jack Crawford of Carmel, Indiana, earned All-MIAA First Team honors, while senior Daniel Settecerri of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and freshman Drew Dykens of Holland, Michigan, were awarded second-team All-MIAA honors. 

The Flying Dutch, coached by Greg Stafford, finished with a 335.0 stroke average in the MIAA. Juniors Jordyn Rioux of Livonia, Michigan, and Abby Meder of Lansing, Michigan, as well as sophomore Megan Jenkinson of Traverse City, Michigan, all received second-team All-MIAA accolades.

In men’s and women’s soccer, runner-up finishes were again achieved by two like-sport teams. The Flying Dutchmen finished with a 14-6-1 overall record, 6-1 in the league, while the Flying Dutch had a mark of 6-5-6 overall and 5-1-2 in the MIAA.

Head coach Dave Brandt’s men’s team received an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III Championship, and Hope hosted the first two rounds at Van Andel Soccer Stadium for the first time ever. The Flying Dutchmen were defeated by Ohio Wesleyan University in the first round. 

Logan Bylsma

The Hope College men’s soccer trio of senior midfielder Isaac Braak of Hudsonville, Michigan, sophomore midfielder Ryan Flynn of Bloomington, Illinois, and senior defender Jordan Hooker of Grand Rapids, Michigan, claimed All-MIAA First Team honors while sophomore forward Alec Belcastro of Washington, Pennsylvania, was chosen as the MIAA Newcomer of the Year. Belcastro was among four second-team honorees, along with junior midfielder Ty Dalton of Rockford, Michigan, sophomore defender Brett Dyer of Northport, Michigan, and senior forward  Logan Bylsma  (pictured) of Hudsonville, Michigan. Bylsma was also named CoSIDA First Team Academic All-American for Division III.

In women’s soccer, four players earned
All-MIAA honors: senior midfielder Megan Bigelow of Flushing, Michigan,
and junior midfielder Maria Egloff of Kalamazoo, Michigan, on the first team, and junior forward Corinne Cole of St. Paul, Minnesota, and freshman defender Erin Powers of Norton Shores, Michigan on the second team.

Coach Becky Schmidt’s ’99 volleyball team finished runner-up  in the MIAA and received an at-large bid to the 2019 NCAA Division III Championship for the 12th time in 14 years. where the 10th-ranked Flying Dutch advanced to the regional final before bowing to host Calvin University in four sets. Volleyball finished with a 24-8 overall record, 7-1 in the league.

McKenna Otto

Sophomore middle hitter  McKenna Otto  (pictured) of Wheaton, Illinois, not only earned All-MIAA First Team honors, she was also selected as a second-team NCAA Division III All-American by the AVCA. 

Also receiving All-MIAA First Team recognition was sophomore outside hitter Ana Grunewald of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Two more Flying Dutch were selected to the All-MIAA Second Team: Senior libero Gabbi Vachon of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and sophomore setter Tracy Westra of Clarendon Hills, Illinois.

Hope College is in first place in the MIAA Commissioner’s Cup all-sports standings after the fall season with a total of 64.5 points in four men’s and four women’s sports. Calvin University is second (49), while Trine University is third (48.5). The Commissioner’s Cup award is based on the cumulative performance of each member school in the league’s 23 sports — 11 in women’s sports and 12 in men’s sports, with each school counting its top eight finishes by gender. The fall update includes each school’s MIAA finish in all sports.

In the first update of the NCAA Division III Learfield IMG College Directors’ Cup, Hope stands in 22nd place after the fall. Points are awarded based on each institution’s finish in NCAA Championships. Hope totaled 186 points by reaching the regional final in women’s volleyball, finishing 27th in women’s cross country and earning first round points in football and men’s soccer.

There are 446 schools in NCAA Division III.

We Do the Math

Every sport, every single one, has one thing in common — doing math. The simple act of keeping score is simple math, and in every sporting event, there is a score. Of course, many other mathematical equations make up sports calculations beyond scoring. Percentages. Averages. Totals. Comparisons. Statistical collection is the very backbone of all athletic contests and fodder for all sporty pundits to make their cases for the reasons behind winning and losing.

In “We Do the Math,” we’ll look at some unique numbers beyond scores and common statistics that give you new numeric ways to look at Hope sports. You just may find that, as American mathematician and Field Medal winner William Paul Thurston said, “mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations or algorithms; it’s about understanding.”

Up first, Hope College men’s and women’s golf, both runners up in the MIAA in 2019. Here are some idiosyncratic ways that the teams’ six-week fall season (they also play for another five weeks in the spring) added up.

Photograph of Daniel Settecerri by Lynne Powe ’86
Men’s Golf Women’s Golf
11 – Number of contests 11 – Number of contests
198 – Total holes played/golfer 198 – Total holes played/golfer
1,188 – Total holes played as a team 1,188 – Total holes played as a team
73,443 – Total yards played/golfer 63,925 – Total yards played/golfer
41.73 – Miles walked/golfer 36.32 – Miles walked/golfer
250.38 – Total miles walked as a team 217.92 – Total miles walked as a team
1,798.9 – Total van miles driven by Coach Scott Lokers ’81 1,564.4 – Total van miles driven by Coach Greg Stafford
Photograph of Abigail Meder by Lynne Powe ’86

Lessons from the Leveling Field

Claire Bates looks on as a Miracle League player gets ready to bat.
Claire Bates looks on as a Miracle League player gets ready to bat.

 “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play — clap clapclapclap — today. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today.”

John Fogerty’s rock-and-roll anthem about America’s national pastime blared from the sound system one quintessential fall day at a unique field last September. Without a second thought to the background music, children with physical and cognitive challenges — youngsters with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, autism, hearing or sight loss, limb differences and cancer diagnoses — put the peppy lyrics into jaunty motion. They tugged caps on heads, slipped hands to gloves, heaved neon-yellow softballs, swung aluminum bats, connected barrel to ball, and aimed their way for first base, then second, then third, onward to home. With Hope College softball student-athletes by their sides, unstoppable smiles lit their way.

At the West Michigan Miracle League (WMML), a place where “every
child deserves a chance to play,” the tune that pays rowdy tribute to baseball also does another important thing: It highlights the liberating and rejuvenating power of play, no matter one’s abilities or life circumstance. There may not be a better place in America to shout its catchy chorus.

 “Look at me … I can be … centerfield.”

Bre Nolan watches her WMML buddy throw a softball.
Bre Nolan and her WMML buddy.

Since the WMML started in 2013 in Rockford at Nate Hurwitz Field, head coach Mary VandeHoef has scheduled a fall-ball Saturday to take her Flying Dutch softball team on the 40-mile trek away from campus to give back via a sport that is as organic to them as outfield grass. Each Hope student-athlete is paired with a Miracle League child playing in one of three one-hour games. With their families in tow, the children, ages five to 18, travel in from throughout the region to band together and play a beloved game that strengthens their social bonds, self-esteem and physical coordination. It is an inclusive experience for them to feel valued and seen.

Everything at WMML is ADA-compliant, from field to dugout accessibility. Bases are sewn into the artificial turf so wheelchairs or walkers have no hindrances on the base paths. The rest of the field has true Little League dimensions and aura, though, right down to the advertisers in the outfield and an enthusiastic PA announcer.

Waves of applause and appreciation fall over them, and they are covered in a uniform of delight. And while they are, though they don’t know it, the WMML kids are imparting life lessons to college students. It’s a profound paradox that plays out quite regularly on this field of miracles.

Hands over hearts, players and volunteers begin every game in proper seriousness with the national anthem, and then with the next diamond- related tradition. “Let’s play ball” jump-starts unbridled exuberance. Every WMML child — with varying degrees of help from their Hope buddies — bats, gets on base, scores and plays a position in the field. The positive energy they emit lets off enough wattage to light up the scoreboard.

And that scoreboard, at the end of each of the two innings shows a tie ballgame between teams that take on the names of colleges favored by WMML coaches in the fall — MSU Spartans, CMU Chippewas, Ole Miss Rebels, Hope Flying Dutch, for example — and Major League Baseball teams in the spring. For posterity, the stretch between the first and second inning includes a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” 

Through it all, WMML children are taught, encouraged and cheered again and again by their coaches, their families, their buddies. They soak in that affirmation every time a ball is hit, fielded and thrown; every time a base is reached and a run is scored. Waves of applause and appreciation fall over them, and they are covered in a uniform of delight. And while they are, though they don’t know it, the WMML kids are imparting life lessons to college students. It’s a profound paradox that plays out quite regularly on this field of miracles.

All players lined up for the national anthem.
Before “Let’s play ball,” the national anthem.

The same glove junior centerfielder Jo Cook uses to snag towering fly balls or screaming line drives at Hope’s Wolters Stadium is the same glove that she uses to patiently help her Miracle League buddies scoop up grounders that may slowly roll their way. Its leathery power is in its versatility to be used whenever and wherever it’s needed, whether on a college field or on a smaller one, just like Cook herself.

“Miracle League brings into perspective several important things in my life,” says the nursing major. “These kids teach me to be joyful for all that I have, even the little things, even the trials. They teach me to not take a day for granted. And they remind me that God gave me these athletic abilities to use at Hope but also to use to help others.”

Jo Cook and her WMML buddy talk strategy.
Jo Cook and her WMML buddy talk strategy.

Cook then pauses just a bit, collects up another insight as if loading up that helpful glove and adds, “Honestly, when I think about it, the Miracle League kids are using their abilities to help me, too. They show me that this sport that I love to play might have frustrating practices or games at times, but that shouldn’t matter. I do this because I love it, just like they do.”

Like little Louie, one Miracle League child, does. Though non-verbal, Louie expresses his joy to Cook through physical communication. His movements display a transparent happiness to be right where he is. He lightly touches the ball, touches Cook’s hand, touches her hair. Then he smiles, returns his focus to the game, and Cook understands his gladness in that moment. And she is happy, too. Joy sometimes needs no words, just a game to play and a person to share it with.

For junior Claire Bates, Miracle League day is one she looks forward to every fall because it connects with her Christian calling, personally and academically. A social work major, Bates sees much of her volunteering time through the lens of her faith — “We’re called to be the hands and feet of the Lord and this is one clear way that we can do that” — and her soon-to-be profession — “one that focuses on building strengths to help clients create solutions.” 

Halle Carpenter and a WMML player rounding for home
Rounding for home

“I think Miracle League is a beautiful example of that [vocational
philosophy] because they’re looking at what kids can do and celebrating that and never really looking at their limitations,” Bates says.

“I think it really just comes down to appreciating and recognizing our able-bodied privilege. Miracle League makes me think how we can play this sport in a way that honors it and appreciates it in a much deeper fashion. — Claire Bates

Then, like Cook did earlier, Bates stops to think more intently
about how much the Miracle League children make a difference
in her life, now and into a future that she will spend in service
to others. What she articulates is a profundity beyond most 20-year-olds’ years.

 “I think it really just comes down to appreciating and recognizing
our able-bodied privilege,” she says. “Miracle League makes me think how we can play this sport in a way that honors it and appreciates it in a much deeper fashion. Like Jo said, when we do have bad days at practice or when there’s just rough plays in a game, at the end of the day, we still get to play a sport that we love completely. It just brings a whole new gratefulness.”

A WMML player gives a happy high five to a Hope player
Happy high five

From Hope teammate to Hope teammate, Miracle League player to Miracle League player, evidence and expressions of gratitude abound. As they are, Acts 20:35 — “It is more blessed to give than receive” — gets pitched a curveball. Who are actually the ones giving? Who is doing the receiving? Coach VandeHoef knows the answers to those questions full well.

 “We always leave feeling we received more than we gave, and that’s a pretty special feeling,” she confirms.

Cayley Ebeling and Avery Slancik run the bases with their buddy

Cayley Ebeling (left) and Avery Slancik (right) run the bases with their buddy

Other Hope teams, organizations and alumni volunteer at WMML — the women’s basketball team, the baseball team, the men’s basketball team, the SIB sorority, and grads Don Kent ’19 and Bob Dame ’83 — and each are as enthusiastic about their service there as the softball squad. WMML co-founder and commissioner Tony Comden of Zeeland, Michigan, values the league’s partnership with Hope, an
association that started with the league’s beginning. “We love how Hope students love on our kids,” says Comden.  “They are amazing representatives of the college.” 

Hope’s participation has influenced other MIAA teams to take part at Miracle League, too. Word has spread; volunteering there is a contagious exercise. “Too many volunteers and not enough parking — those are nice problems for a non-profit to have,” Comden adds.

“We love how Hope students love on our kids,” says Tony Comden.  “They are amazing representatives of the college.” 

After the end of day of service, the Flying Dutch walk to that full parking lot after packing up their gear at the field. Animated still, they share stories and laughter, piling slowly into their cars for the hour drive back to Hope. It is clear that it will take a long time for their Miracle League cheer to fade. Maybe it never will. Sophomore Whitney Wegener, for one, knows she’s made memories and learned lessons at WMML that will last her lifetime.

“Here, there might be challenges connecting verbally or physically, but it’s just about being in the moment,” Wegener says. “Then, the disability disappears, and we are all just kids at play. It’s a leveling field here. We’re all really the same deep down.” 

With those last seven words, Wegener rips the cover off the essence of Miracle League play. They are words as sweet and true as a homerun lifted straight toward the heart of centerfield.

Photographs by Steven Herppich

Water for Learning and Life

Joey Dawson and Megan Bigelow pose for a portrait with Sawyer filters by a drinking fountain

In 2018, Hope student-athletes Megan Bigelow and
Joey Dawson were demonstrating to communities in Ghana how a simple filter could turn filthy mop water into crystal-clear, drinkable water. One year later, they were assembling the filters themselves — just a small part of their internships at Sawyer Products, a company that makes water filtration systems and other outdoor products

Whether in Sawyer’s air-conditioned headquarters in Florida or in a hot village in Ghana, whether on a dust-patch soccer field or in an executive boardroom, both experiences taught the Hope student-athletes that being on mission for Christ can happen anywhere.

Bigelow and Dawson, both seniors, went to Ghana as part of the college’s SEED (Sport Evangelism to Equip Disciples) program, which uses sport as a means to connect with others, tell them about Jesus, show them his love, and help the student-athletes grow and deepen in their faith. 

 “Sport brings people together,” Dawson said. “It’s like music, it’s a common language.” 

Dawson is majoring in economics and business and part of the Baker Scholars program. The two-time captain has run on the men’s cross country team for four years.

SEED has been bringing Hope student-athletes on international service and evangelism trips for three summers, in locations that have included Ghana, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, India, Uganda and Zambia.

Critically, SEED trips also provide clean water for communities that so desperately need it. During each trip, Hope students train communities on how to use Sawyer water filters. In addition to donating the filters, Sawyer also makes trips for SEED participants affordable. (Full disclosure: Sawyer Products also funds a Hope research program that tests the sediments in its filters used in developing nations.)

“I’d never been on a mission trip, so I had no idea what to expect,” Bigelow said. “When we went over there I thought it would be fun to play sports with kids, but the water aspect was a lot larger than I thought.”

Megan Bigelow directs the soccer ball during a game.
Bigelow was an All-MIAA First Team honoree and captain in women’s soccer.

Bigelow is a scrappy midfielder on the Hope women’s soccer team and a business and economics double major from Flushing, Michigan. A 2019 All-MIAA First Team honoree, Bigelow has played in 80 games and tallied 37 shots on goal during her tenure at Hope, racking up seven goals and six assists for 20 points. She was a three-year starter and captained the team for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Like Bigelow, it was Dawson’s first time on an international mission trip.

“I had never been out of the country before, but I had a hunger to go somewhere new and to learn about a side of the world that I’ve never been to and people that I knew next to nothing about,” Dawson said. “This trip was an amazing opportunity to do that through an avenue I’m really passionate about: sport.”

At each stop in Ghana, the SEED team played games with children, conducting clinics in frisbee, soccer, baseball, volleyball and American football. They also taught Bible lessons and memory verses, and they shared the Gospel.

Joey Dawson during a cross country race nears the finish line.
Dawson captained the men’s cross country team and competes here in the 2018 MIAA Championship at Eastern Hills Golf Course, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“To be able to do a trip that had the potential to talk about Christ with people, or to have cool conversations and form friendships around Christ as the center, that was amazing,” Dawson said.

He fell in love with the Ghanaian children (his tripmates said Dawson gave endless piggyback rides to the eagerly relentless kids), and he realized that, whatever he does after Hope, connecting with children is something that God is calling him to do.

Bigelow was struck by the faith of so many people she met in Ghana. “Their love for God was the greatest love I’ve ever seen, and they don’t even have clean water,” she said. 

After the trip, “we all talked about how we have this global family that we didn’t know about: one, through Christianity, and, two, through sport,” Bigelow said.

The following year, in the summer of 2019, both Bigelow and Dawson landed internships at Sawyer.

 “I was interested in working for Sawyer after our trip because it’s an outdoor company with a great mission. I was passionate about their products and the work they were doing,” Dawson said.

Hope alumnus Kurt Avery ’74 is the founder and CEO of Sawyer Products. His experience at Hope and as a Baker Scholar paved the way for his business success, and he’s intentional about providing similar opportunities to others.

“Kurt started this internship program as another way to give back,” Bigelow said. 

Bigelow’s and Dawson’s internships were wide-ranging. Some days they’d be on the factory floor assembling Sawyer’s water filters or other products; other days they’d critique and create Sawyer’s displays and packaging. 

“Kurt wanted us to get a taste of factory work to instill a humble work ethic, realizing that your decisions as a white-collar desk worker impact other people and their lives,” Dawson said. 

Avery also served as a mentor for the interns. “Every day we would meet with him, and he would teach what he called Grasshopper U — a lesson he got from his MBA classes in graduate school,” Bigelow said. “We would bring a pad of paper to his office and he would just teach us different things.”

“He would carve out time to sit down with us and teach us various lessons that he had learned through the years — sometimes through the hard way —  that could make us better leaders,” Dawson said.

“After watching Kurt, it’s so cool to be able to witness how he doesn’t work just for this life, he works for the life after this one. It’s great to see how he’s intentional about incorporating that into his work,” Bigelow said.

Their big project at Sawyer was to help the company better communicate to Generation Z.  “For several weeks we did market research,” Dawson said. “We compiled a presentation, and we flew out to the planning conference in Colorado, where we presented to the executive committee.”

 “Sport brings people together,” Joey Dawson said. “It’s like music, it’s a common language.” 

The ability to plug into so many elements of a successful company was a valuable experience that they hope will impact their work as they build their own careers after graduation. They also saw first-hand how a for-profit organization can find success in the marketplace while pursuing charitable causes. Sawyer donates filters and funds SEED trips because its leadership believes in doing good for the world — not only by meeting the physical needs of people who need water, but by meeting the spiritual needs of people who need the living water of the Gospel.

In 2019, Avery received the Hope for Humanity Award, presented to Hope College alumni athletes who have demonstrated Christian commitment and service to others in their careers after Hope. “We’re a company with a mission,” Avery said at the annual HOPEYs Awards ceremony. “I’m not going to take anything with me.” 

 “There are a lot of different ways to be a witness to Christ,” Dawson said. “Not all people are called to preach on the street corner, but we’re all called to full-time ministry.”

Feature photograph by Steven Herppich; Action photographs by Lynne Powe ’86; Ghana photographs by Megan Bigelow and James Ellis

Full-Time, Year-Round, Hyphened-Identity Balancing Acts

Mitchel Achien'g and Mason Opple sit side by side

Student-athletes Mitchel Achien’g (pronounced Me-Shell Aah-Ching) and Mason Opple embarked on much different paths to Hope College four years ago, but they’ve shared a lot in common since they arrived. 

Both are great students, award-winning athletes, and even better people who have excelled on multiple teams over multiple seasons during their Hope careers. They perform at elite levels despite a myriad of expectations and demands on their schedules.

Achien’g is a multiple-event performer in indoor and outdoor track and field. The senior from Nairobi, Kenya, is pursuing an economics major and a business minor and has landed on the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Honor Roll (which takes a 3.5 GPA or higher) and Hope dean’s list multiple times. Achien’g was the 2019 MIAA Most Valuable Field Athlete in indoor track and field last winter, and then helped the Flying Dutch outdoor team repeat as league champions last spring.

Opple plays football, baseball and, for the first time this winter at Hope, basketball. The senior from Hudsonville, Michigan, is majoring in business and holds a B+ average. He was chosen as the league Most Valuable Offensive Player this past fall in football and was an all-MIAA rightfielder for a baseball team that won a school-record 31 games in the spring of 2019. This winter, he has been a role player on the basketball court for the Flying Dutchmen. 

Recently, Achien’g and Opple met for the second time ever and sat down in DeVos Fieldhouse to talk about their experiences as busy student-athletes. Their insights reveal how their dual identities are kept in balance.

What is it about your sports that you most enjoy?

Achien’g:I think the competitiveness through the years is what I enjoy most. In sports, you’re never the same every year. Your sophomore year, you’re better than your freshman year. Your junior year, you’re better than your sophomore year. You grow and develop. Being able to see that improvement through competition is very important to me.

Opple:It is the aspect of hanging out with teammates to accomplish the same kind of goal. You get to compete every day when you practice with your teammates or play against other teams. Competition makes people work together.

Mason Opple runs the football during a home game
This past fall, Opple was a dual-threat quarterback, passing for 1,598 yard and 16 touchdowns and rushing for 858 yard and 16 touchdowns. He finished with 45 career rushing touchdowns, third most in Flying Dutchmen team history.

How has playing in multiple seasons helped you both on the field and in the classroom?

Opple: It is how it has always been. You grow up obviously playing these sports, so you get in a rhythm. We’re always in the whole class-practice-homework mode. You don’t really ever break that, which is nice because then you have a structure that you stay with all the time. Getting away from a sport has power to it, too, which I think some people don’t realize when they try to specialize in one sport. In the spring, I’m playing baseball, not even thinking about football. In the fall, it’s the opposite. I think that really does have a lot of positives. For me, the change of scenery, the change of sports, gives me a fresh perspective as I move from one sport to the next.

Achien’g: For me, it’s different because in the fall, I’m not really competing. My competition season begins in december or January. Just having that discipline of working hard in the off-season, knowing that even though you’re not competing, it counts. I think that matters. Even if I’m not in my official season, it’s healthy for me to be disciplined and know whatever I put in will affect my performance. That’s the same thing in class. You may not be studying for an exam, but just going through your schoolwork and making sure you understand what’s being taught really helps.

Mitchel Achien'g clear a hurdle in a race.
Mitchel Achien’g is a versatile competitor as a heptathlete. She holds the school record in the 60-meter hurdles in indoor track with a time of 9.22 seconds.

What’s the biggest challenge of being a multi-season athlete?

Achien’g: For me, it’s missing that aspect of having a social life. I’m training in the off-season and, of course, practicing in-season. I don’t get to hang out with my friends whenever I want. So, I’m really in-season the whole year. I have to make time to have a social life.

Opple: The biggest challenge is probably being away from the team [I’m not currently on]. In the fall, I rarely see the baseball guys as much as I would like to. The same way in the spring. I don’t see the football guys as much as I would like to. Obviously, I’m not complaining about not having to get up at 5 in the morning all year long, but they’re grinding together. They’re creating those bonds at those 5 a.m. lifts, and I’m not there. So, I miss out on that whole full-year, camaraderie aspect of one sport.

What’s your favorite part about playing in multiple seasons?

Opple: You get to compete year-round. Then there’s the aspect that you get these two completely different sets of friends that is just awesome in its own way. I can go hang out with the baseball team on a Friday night and the football team on a Saturday night. It’s two completely different worlds, and I really enjoy that.

Achien’g: Keeping my physical fitness all year is my favorite part. It’s usually very hard to continue your fitness in the off-season. Having to practice all year helps me keep my fitness going.

Mason Opple up to bat, in mid-swing, about to hit a baseball
Opple is an All-MIAA rightfielder who will soon break the school record for career RBIs once the baseball season starts in March. He is currently tied with Mike Van Beek ’03 with 119 runs batted in.

What’s been your favorite class at Hope College?

Achien’g: My English 113 class. It helped me develop my writing skills. Coming into Hope College, my writing skills were not that good. The class showed me a different way of writing, a different way
of expressing myself.

Opple: My labor economics class. It gave me a different perspective on the typical econ like Micro, Macro. It was a challenging class yet rewarding because I felt like I learned a lot and it was taught by a great professor.

How do you find time to get enough sleep and what do you do to eat well?

Opple: When you have a full day, class at 8 in the morning, practices, film, homework, you’ve got to get to bed. You’ve got to get at least seven, eight hours of sleep. You’ve got to keep to that schedule because our bodies are creatures of habit. Nutrition-wise, I’m not a super health freak, but I just control what I can control or not eat those things that are blatantly bad for me.

Achien’g: I have to make sure that I’m sleeping enough to make my body recover, replenish and get ready for the next day. Same for nutrition. I have to make sure I’m eating the right foods that will help my tissues and muscles. Good sleep and nutrition are the key to being ready even for practice for the next day.

Mitchel Achien'g leaps to compete in the triple jump
Achien’g is the defending MIAA champion in the women’s indoor triple jump.

Where does your energy come from? 

Achien’g: For me, it’s more like I don’t want to not have energy. I want to get better every time, every day. When I have those types of days, I remember: “This will make you better. If you give up right now, you’re not going to become good.”

Opple: I would say sports actually give me energy. Maybe you didn’t do as well on test as you wanted, you’re having a rough day for whatever reason. That two, two-and-a-half hours you get to go out on the field and compete, play the game you love, is that getaway and gives you the energy back.

If you were given some time to relax, no studying, no competing, what would you do?

Opple: I live in a house of five other guys. Four are football players, one is a baseball player. We play video games on the TV in the living room, a lot of Madden. We hang out, make it a competition. Winner plays this guy or that guy and so on. We keep track on the whiteboard.

Achien’g: I like to travel. I like exploring new places and stuff. When I have the time and am able to travel, I do that. It’s kind of relaxing. I get excited to see new things.

How have you felt supported at Hope College?

Achien’g: There have been times when I’ve gone to a professor and asked to be in a certain section for class because of my athletic schedule. They have been understanding and accommodating. I get a lot of support from the Hope faculty and staff.

Opple: To be honest, the coaches couldn’t have made it any easier. They’ve been super supportive of me missing things — whether it’s missing spring football or missing fall baseball. They support me. They go to the games. Professors hear you play these sports and they support you. Everybody at Hope College supports and loves to see you playing more than one sport. It couldn’t have been made any easier for me.

Top feature photography by Steven Herppich; Action photographs by Lynne Powe ’86

It’s Cool to be a Nurse, Bro!

Trace Slancik, Austin Kane, Nick Bazany, and Blair McCormick pose for a portrait in a hospital room.
Nursing students and athletes, left to right, Trace Slancik, Austin Kane, Nick Bazany, and Blair McCormick. Not pictured: Logan Shadaia

A profound brotherhood has formed amongst five senior men graduating from the Hope nursing program this May. Not only have they supported each other in mastering the balance of being student-athletes on five different athletic teams, they’ve also embraced a future in a female-dominated field.

Nick Bazany, Austin Kane, Blair McCormick, Trace Slancik and Logan
have championed being in the nursing minority, knowing they
have the potential to bring a new perspective and experience for patients and co-workers alike. 

“Having the support of these guys around you, guys who understand what you’re going through, is a really big thing for all of us,” McCormick, the men’s soccer goalkeeper from Wadsworth, Illinois, said. “When times are stressful, it’s good to have guys around you to talk about these personal experiences and remind you why you want to be a nurse in the first place.” 

After they pass their National Council Licensure Exam this summer, the five will join the 11.4 percent of nurses in America who are male, according to 2018 United States Bureau of Labor statistics. They’re used to that kind of stat. They make up five of the 12 declared male nursing majors at Hope College, with 139 total students in the program.

Nick Bazanky plays long-stick defender on the lacrosse team.
Nick Bazanky plays long-stick defender.

Bazany, a men’s lacrosse defender from Howell, Michigan, praises the support and encouragement they have all received along the way, from Hope College professors to practitioners in the field. 

“Everyone just accepts the fact that we’re all doing the same thing they are and being guys doesn’t make that any different. We have the same goals for our patients and want to do the same things for everybody,” Bazany said. “After a while, you don’t forget you’re a guy, but you just kind of stop noticing that as a defining difference.”

Each of the men looks back to the hard moments in their lives when a nurse, or team of nurses, went the extra mile to make the best of a bad
situation as their reasons for going into the field. They want to provide that same comfort and assurance for someone else. 

Blair McCormick defends in the soccer goal.
Blair McCormick in goal.

For McCormick, it was the nurses, and one male nurse in particular, who cared for his grandma when she became ill. McCormick was in awe as he watched the male nurse care for her, and realized how well he was able to get to know her and make her comfortable in a short amount of time, and in such a tough situation. 

It was similar for Bazany, whose mom was diagnosed with breast cancer during his freshman year of college. He gives all the credit to the nurses who cared for her during her hospital stay and recovery period.

Kane first realized he wanted to help people when a close friend died from suicide during his sophomore year in high school.

“It was hard for me, but it also drove me to realize that I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and have them not feel that pain,” said Kane, the ice hockey goalie from Flint, Michigan.

Austin Kane makes a save in hockey goal.
Austin Kane makes a save.

The sentiment resonated two years later when he watched the nursing team make the end of his cousin’s life as comfortable as possible. It was seeing nurses provide individualized care and help one person at a time that solidified Kane’s career path.

Slancik, a catcher for Hope baseball from Scotts, Michigan, was also drawn to nursing when he realized that nurses get a bit more face-to-face patient interaction than doctors in a lot of cases. They are able to build relationships with not only the patients, but their families too, which he likes.

Becoming stand-out nurses comes down to relationship-building for the group. That, and the ability to communicate with people in situations that aren’t necessarily the most comfortable. As Bazany explains,  “You have to be able to advocate for any patient at any moment in time.”

“It’s also about passion,” Kane said. “A passionate nurse is what makes a good nurse, because in general, passion is what fuels them to take care of their patients in the best manner possible… Without passion, how can you really be good at something?”

Logan Shadaia poses for a portrait.
Logan Shadaia

It’s that same attitude that also enables them be successful student athletes — the push to be the best and leaders in what they do. The level of selfless leadership speaks for itself as four of the men lead their respective teams as captains.  Shadaia, a fifth-year senior from Oakland, Michigan, helped to guide the football team as a student-assistant coach in the fall of 2019.

“The biggest perk of being a nursing student-athlete is that you gain two families,” Shadaia says.” I am a part of a family with football and nursing. They both provide a great support system.”

Dr. Donna Garrett, chairperson of the Department of Nursing, finds that student-athletes in the nursing program are often the best at time management and advocating for themselves. That fact holds true for all Hope student-athletes in the nursing program, whether they’re men or women, Garrett emphasized. Twenty percent of Hope nursing majors are on varsity athletic teams. 

Logan Shadaia blocks at the H-back position on the football field.
Logan Shadaia blocks at the H-back position.

“They’re top athletes as well,” said Garrett, referring to the majority of nursing majors who are student-athletes. “If they’re going to be successful academically, they are also going to be the student-athlete who is successful in their sport, too. It just seems to be a personality trait, where they’re willing to put in the work and sacrifice to do both aspects well.” 

The department works diligently with athletics to ensure that students can fully participate and be successful in both realms. The priority is for student-athletes to be present for all their games. Then it comes down to working one-on-one with the student-athletes and coaches to make sure that they can balance practice times, clinicals and everything else in-between. 

It’s an advantage that Garrett and the five men realize happens with regularity at a place like Hope. The support and flexibility provided by their professors and coaches has been second to none. However, it still comes down to personal accountability where, as McCormick explains, they sacrifice the little things because it becomes about big-picture life views. 

Trace Slancik offers congrats after a baseball.
Trace Slancik offers congrats after a win.

“You go into it to do what you love and to ultimately help people,” Slancik echoed. “You’re really living a selfless lifestyle, and that makes it all worth it in the end.”

Garrett agrees that men are an underrepresented group in nursing, but more are slowly going into the field, creating good role models for this group of men — a group that she calls “fun” and “kind-hearted,” always stepping out and going the extra mile for anyone with whom they cross paths.

Post-graduation, Bazany, Kane, Slancik and Shadaia hope to spend time in an intensive care unit of a hospital. They also plan to attend grad school to become nurse anesthetists. McCormick plans to attend grad school to become a family nurse practitioner and focus on preventative care.

Until then, their focus will continue to be on conquering their academics and their opponents. 

Feature photography by Steven Herppich; Action photographs by Steven Herppich and Lynne Powe ’86

New-ish Coaches on the Block, Part 1

Part One

One is well into his collegiate coaching career, the other is just starting out, but both have recently entered the Hope College head coaching ranks. No matter their age difference, head women’s lacrosse coach Keagan Pontious and head swimming and diving coach Jake Taber 04 have a passion for leading and mentoring student-athletes that is palpable. They join 14 other Hope head coaches — with 199 years of college coaching experience between them — who share the same zeal to transform lives through the Hope athletic experience.

Keagan Pontious watches lacrosse players run a play.

Keagan Pontious and her Seton Hill University lacrosse teammates were preparing for the first NCAA tournament game in Griffins program history when she received an incoming call from a random number in Holland, Michigan. It was Hope College Athletic Director Tim Schoonveld ’96 asking if she might be interested in Hope’s women’s lacrosse head coaching position.

With her focus on the upcoming game, Pontious politely told Schoonveld that she had other things on her mind just then. Still, she expressed interest and told Schoonveld he would be hearing from her later.

“I think I surprised her, but it also got her thinking,” Schoonveld said.

That was May 2019. The next month brought glowing headlines. Pontious earned an All-American spot for her midfield play and landed the job as head women’s lacrosse coach at Hope. Schoonveld chose a 23-year-old to fill a position previously occupied by Kim Vincent, who led the Flying Dutch to a school-record 11 wins in the 2019 season. Vincent was at the helm for five years before her retirement created the vacancy.

“I received an email from a parent of an athlete who played club for Keagan [at Pure Advantage Lacrosse] and who had been recruited to play for Hope,” Schoonveld said. “Her dad was so impressed that he emailed me to recommend Keagan.”

Roughly a week later, some of Hope’s women’s lacrosse players brought her name up in conversation with Schoonveld again.

“I felt like we needed to at least talk to her,” Schoonveld said. “Now I’m thankful for those people who recommended her.”

Pontious said her first in-person meeting with Schoonveld was “awesome” and that she quickly found stability. She feels department wide support and delivers high praise for the successful people around her.

Have a conversation about Pontious with her former coaches, and you receive remarkable reviews about her work ethic. Talk with her parents, and you get stories about her competitive streak and drive to get better and outwork the competition. All told, you understand why — and how — Pontious got her first collegiate coaching job fresh out of college.

 “When she was three years old, she rode a two-wheel bike because her sister was five years old and had just learned how to ride a two-wheeler. She wanted to keep up,” said Jane Pontious, Keagan’s mother.  “She told us to take her training wheels off, and off she went. She’s been that way ever since.”

Ralph Shefferly introduced Pontious to lacrosse in eighth grade at Duncan Lake Middle School in her hometown of Caledonia, Michigan. Her physical education teacher at the time, Shefferly put a lacrosse stick in her hands — “the worst possible stick” as Pontious describes it — and in no time she could catch and throw with both hands.

“Keagan was a natural from the very first time we played catch together,” said Shefferly. “I told her when she first started playing [lacrosse] that she would be an All-State player. Sure enough, she was All-State four years and broke many state records for scoring.”

Keagan Pontious gives the thumbs up to her team.

Pontious has high expectations for her 2020 Hope squad — including an MIAA championship and unwavering team togetherness — and she has already instilled the heart-and-hustle philosophy adopted from her college coach at Seton Hill, Courtney Grove.

Grove discovered Pontious at a Notre Dame lacrosse camp. When Grove learned she was uncommitted, a four-word invitation followed: “Come see Seton Hill.” Pontious visited and fell in love with the people there.

That one visit to Greensburg, Pennsylvania, did it. Pontious knew she could carve out a prominent role from the onset if she kept her tireless work ethic intact. Not long after the Seton Hill commitment, though, the University of Michigan wanted her to visit, too. There are what-if-I-went-to-Michigan moments for her, but she knows Seton Hill was the right choice: “It was absolutely the best experience of my life.”

Despite two different season-ending injuries. The first was a broken foot her sophomore year that caused a medical redshirt. She was expecting a breakthrough year after a strong freshman showing, but surgery put her in a boot the entire season. The second injury was a torn ACL as a junior. She took a fifth academic year to complete her four years of athletic eligibility.

Pontious actually reflects fondly on the injuries. The extra year gave her the time needed to confirm she desired coaching as a long-term career. The fifth year also produced a resurgent Pontious, as she earned All-American status and helped lead the Griffins to their first-ever NCAA tournament berth. Grove noticed through the injuries that Pontious had an innate ability to lead and was always looking to better herself and her teammates. 

“Even with a broken foot, she was out sitting in a chair warming up the goalies before practices,” Grove said. “This was an example of her leadership. It showed her teammates that she would do anything to help the team and be part of the team.” It also showed Grove that Pontious would someday make a great college coach.

As head coach of the Flying Dutch, Pontious understands that her powerful platform holds abundant influence and responsibilities, regardless of her age.

Grove was delighted, then, when Pontious called Schoonveld soon after her final collegiate game to talk in detail about the Hope job. No breaking news here: Pontious now has an entire Flying Dutch team to operate. Her bachelor’s degree in business administration and MBA with a specialty in management closely apply to her coaching.

Her organizational approach includes whiteboard calendars mounted on her office wall to keep things in order, plus sticky notes galore surrounding her computer. She inherited the heavy use of the little square notes from her mother, who would post them all over the house — to-do lists, inspirational quotes, reminders. Pontious now writes plays on them. 

 “I’m very passionate about this game, and I know that the team realizes that about me,” Pontious said. “I tell them all the time that I should never have to question your heart for this game. If your heart isn’t in it, then you might need to think about whether or not you should be here.”

“She understands her role is to transform lives through lacrosse, and she is doing a fantastic job,” said Schoonveld.

Being a collegiate athlete has life-changing potential; Pontious knows this firsthand. Teammates become lifelong friends. Coaches mold their student-athletes into better people. Wins and losses reflect the ebbs and flows of human existence.

“Hope is a place that changes lives,” Pontious said. “That’s what Seton Hill was for me. Lacrosse for sure changed my life, and I want to allow the women here to be changed through lacrosse and have their college experience be super great because of lacrosse and everything else that Hope College offers.”

As head coach of the Flying Dutch, Pontious understands that her powerful platform holds abundant influence and responsibilities, regardless of her age. She exudes a confidence that makes one feel as if she already ditched the training wheels and pressed onward to greater coaching heights. That should not be surprising, but an incoming call from Holland, Michigan? Well, that was unforeseen. 

Photographs by Lynne Powe ’86

New-ish Coaches on the Block, Part 2

Part Two

One is well into his collegiate coaching career, the other is just starting out, but both have recently entered the Hope College head coaching ranks. No matter their age difference, head women’s lacrosse coach Keagan Pontious and head swimming and diving coach Jake Taber 04 have a passion for leading and mentoring student-athletes that is palpable. They join 14 other Hope head coaches — with 199 years of college coaching experience between them — who share the same zeal to transform lives through the Hope athletic experience.

Jake Taber using a stopwatch

JAKE TABER knows a lot can happen in one one-hundredth of a second. In less than the time it takes to snap your fingers. Less than the time it takes to blink an eye. Less than the time it takes for a hand to glide through four inches of pool water to touch out at the wall. 

Within that amount of time, you’ll find much of Taber’s coaching philosophy. 

Don’t go thinking that Taber’s many professional tenets have that much brevity; they absolutely do not. In fact, the new head swimming and diving coach could — and would — talk to you for hours on end about how he builds bodies and minds and spirits to swim fast. He just loves talking about the technical stuff. So, sit down and pull up a chair if you ever ask him the ways of his swim-coaching world. You’re going to be there awhile.

There was a time, though, when one one-hundredth of a second taught Taber about clearly-defined expectations and full-hearted empathy. It was a time as transformative as any on his way toward becoming a head coach.

Here, let him tell you how that worked:

“In 2003, I was a junior on Hope’s swim team. I kind of came into college thinking if the stars aligned and I continued to get better, maybe I could have a decent career here. I had enough self-awareness to know that I wasn’t one of the best guys on the team, but I also knew where my opportunities were. Internally, I had a goal to get to the NCAA national championships. I wasn’t good enough to do it individually but, right place, right time, I might be able to weasel my way onto a relay. 

“So, my junior year came around and there were three spots on the 200-yard free relay that were all absolutely locked up and there were two guys fighting for the one remaining spot — me and Travis Barkel. JP [John Patnott, Hope’s head coach at the time] was pretty upfront and pretty fair about how relay spots were earned. Top time in the 50 prelims at the MIAA meet wins the spot. And as it turned out, Travis won the spot. He was one hundredth faster than me in the 50 prelims.

“I wanted to be on that relay so bad, and in the moment as a 21-year-old who was fiery and competitive, I was really bummed about it. Boy, I cried hard between prelims and finals. But I remember watching the relay that night and watching Travis swim and knowing JP got it right. Travis was great on that relay.”

Fast forward one year later. It is Taber’s senior year, and a similar situation exists, but this time with a different result. Taber earned a spot on the 200 free relay team that year and qualified for the national championships. The dream he was once denied became the dream he proudly achieved. 

Having experienced those diametrically-opposed outcomes as a student-athlete, Taber now applies that two-sided understanding into almost every detail as a head coach. The quick-time lesson from 17 years ago is part of his day-to-day modus operandi now, one in which he communicates and role-models his passion for the sport and the people in it. Charismatic, positive and driven to his core, Taber is a quick learner too, because one-hundredth of a second was all the time he needed to figure out a lifetime’s worth of career priorities.

“In my mind, missing the national championships by a hundredth of a second my junior year, even though it was only for a relay spot, had a really big impact and influence on how I’ve coached and how I’ve approached some of those challenging situations on the pool deck and in my life,” he says. “It taught me to communicate — some would say over-communicate — and listen. It taught me how to be understanding when goals aren’t and are met. The bottom line is this: At the end of the day, my biggest responsibility is to challenge every single student-athlete to be better in their sport and in their life, too.”

Jake Taber coaches a swimmer in the freestyle.

Today, Taber is Hope’s sole head coach. Last year, he shared head coaching duties with Patnott, his long-time mentor and Hope’s 39-year head coach. Together, the two guided the women’s swim team to a 2019 MIAA championship, a title returned to Hope for the first time in 15 years. It was an experience that Taber relished on several levels.

“I joked to a lot of people that last year was kind of a mid-career internship for me,” he says, smiling at the recollection of co-coaching with Patnott. “I mean, how neat to be able to be on the pool deck with your mentor as peers, looking at the same things with the same goals. Last year, coaching again with JP, was just a blast.”

Taber started his coaching career as an assistant under Patnott from 2004 to 2007. He then went onto become the head swim coach at Olivet College (2007-12) and Albion College (2012-18), earning accolades at both and winning a 2017 men’s championship at Albion. Coming back to his alma mater was always his goal, he says, but when Patnott told him he was thinking about retirement two years ago, Taber and his wife, Kelly Kraft ’04, weren’t sure if the timing was right for them to go home to Hope. They had three small children and a good support system in Marshall, Michigan. Life was messy and busy but good. A move and job change would have only added to their frenetic life with littles. 

“I love my alma mater and when you have an experience like I had here at Hope, you want [returning to coach] to work out,” he explains. “But when you’re at that phase of life like we were — and are, it needs to make sense for your family, not just because it’s your alma mater. But Kelly and I talked and the moment we realized it would work, we sprinted back here.” 

Charismatic, positive and driven to his core, Taber is a quick learner too, because one-hundredth of a second was all the time he needed to figure out a lifetime’s worth of career priorities.

The Tabers now have four children — seven-year-old Tessa;
five-year-old Colby; Sloane who is almost three; and Augusta
Hope, soon to turn a year old. “Life is real right now,” Taber likes to say with the ineffable smile of a proud and tired father. He is unguarded about expressing his deep love for his family, calls Kelly his rock and glue, and is unashamed to share all of his real-life family realities with his student-athletes or visiting prospects, too. He is who he is, and you know it from the get-go because there it is, all fittingly worn on his sleeve — a husband and father, a man of faith, an assistant professor and a head swim coach who cares enormously about his swim team family, too. 

So, it is with the personable Taber that you see an un-sanitized
version of a life lived at full tilt. It starts with a 5:30 a.m. morning practice, to a daycare drop-off, to class or practice prep, to afternoon recruiting calls, to a 6 p.m. end-of-afternoon practice, to 8 p.m. bedtime stories and snuggles. For a guy who one day dreamed of becoming the general manager of the Detroit Tigers (his car radio is tuned to MLB Network 365 days a year), Taber is extremely happy with where he is and what he is doing.

“I had one good swim meet in high school and I thought it would be a good idea to swim in college because of it, and that changed my life,” says Taber, who was a three-sport athlete, also playing soccer and baseball, at Battle Creek Lakeview High School. “Then once I got to Hope, it was the experience, it was the people, it was the camaraderie, it was being a part of something bigger than myself that made everything special. 

 “Along the way, I listened to my dad say, ‘Jake, go to school, get your education, then wake up in the morning and want to go to work.’ And I do. I love what I do. And that makes
all the difference.”

Photographs by Lynne Powe ’86

Playing Catch Up: Duy Dang ’91

Earning even one berth on Hope’s all-time single-season football leaderboards isn’t easy, much less three spots, but Duy Dang ’91 did it, and he’s the only one who crawled through barbed wire in a jailbreak to get there.

(And that isn’t the half of it.)

Back in 1987, Dang was a five-foot-eight, 130-pound freshman who kicked for two Hope accolades that are still notable: most points by a kicker, with 28 points after touchdown (PATs) and 10 field goals for a total of 58 points (eighth in the rankings), and most field goals kicked, completing 10 of 13 (tied for third). He claimed a third top-10 spot in 1989 with eight of 14 field goals (tied for sixth).

Dang, who graduated with a degree in business, came to Hope from Tecumseh, Michigan, where he kicked in high school. But his story really begins not with coming to Hope and Holland, or even with coming to Tecumseh, but with coming to America as a 12-year-old refugee from Halan, Vietnam. Halan was a farming village that, in the late 1970s, was still reeling from the American involvement in, and withdrawal from, the Vietnam War.

Duy Dang in 1988

Dang’s story was covered by the Grand Rapids Press and later reprinted in an October 1987 issue of News from Hope College. The article describes his harrowing experience: the Viet Cong’s arrival in Halan, borrowed gold to buy his passage out, an escape to Saigon, two arrests, a jailbreak, an overpacked refugee boat adrift for a week in the South China Sea, and his eventual arrival at a military base in the Philippines. From there, he made his way to the United States.

After spending some time in a refugee camp in the U.S., Dang bounced around a bit before settling in with the Nix family in southeast Michigan. His foster father, Wayne Nix, was the football coach in Tecumseh, and he encouraged Dang to try out for the team, effectively setting him up for his athletic success at Hope — and much of the personal and professional success that followed.

Twenty-eight years after graduating from Hope, Duy Dang is now living in Vancouver, Washington, “just next door to Portland, Oregon,” he said. He currently works as a senior district sales manager for Eli Lilly and Company. 

 “After Hope College, I was fortunate enough to land a position as a pharmaceutical sales rep for Merck and Company, and I began my career in Michigan,” Dang said. 

In 1995, Dang relocated from his Michigan territory to the company’s headquarters in Philadelphia, where he worked while earning his MBA at Villanova University. When he was promoted to management at Merck in 2000, he relocated to the Pacific Northwest, where he’s lived for nearly 20 years. 

“The influence that Hope had on me is undoubtedly meaningful
and critical to my success,” Dang said. He cites the school’s academic program and the opportunity to develop various skills that have served him well, but he’s also quick to mention the diversity of experiences he had (Dang remembers his off-campus study experience in Vienna as especially meaningful) and, of course, his time on the football field.

“My experience at Hope went a long way in helping me be a type of coach for my team and the leader that I am for the company. I took a lot from that experience.” — Duy Dang 91

“As you work in any organization, you’re never by yourself,” Dang said. “You work as part of a team, and you win and lose as a team. My experience at Hope went a long way in helping me be a type of coach for my team and the leader that I am for the company. I took a lot from that experience.”

Not unlike a football coach who oversees 11 players on the field, Dang manages a team of 11 regional sales reps. And the sport similarities don’t end with the numbers.

“I reflect a lot on Coach Ray Smith and how he coached us, and sometimes I find myself using some of the lines that he used. In looking back, I particularly appreciate the way he cared for the players and the integrity he displayed,” said Dang, who was an All-MIAA selection in 1987. “I have the utmost respect for Coach Smith, and I think of him as a great leader.”

Duy Dang today

In the decades since leaving Hope, Dang has been able to return to Vietnam several times.

“My first trip back to Vietnam was in 1995, about 15 years after I left,” Dang said. “I went back to visit my parents and my family. Since then, I’ve made many other trips back home, and I’ve been able to bring my parents to the U.S.” His parents have been in America for about 15 years; they live in nearby Portland. He’s also been able to bring six of his siblings (four brothers and two sisters) to live in the U.S.

Dang has a family: wife Linh and two children, Ethan (13) and Olivia (almost 5). He met Linh in Vietnam; she lived in a village near Halan, where he grew up. They worship at a Catholic church in Portland. 

“Reflecting back on the overall experience at Hope College, it’s pretty crazy to think that a school like Hope — with its unique social roots and the Dutch Reformed affiliation — ended up being the alma mater for a person like me. What are the chances?” Dang said. 

“As a young person from Vietnam with an aspiration to learn, being offered the opportunity and being embraced by Hope was tremendous. It says a lot about the institution that Hope is and, more importantly, about its people.”

Playing Catch Up: Where Alumni-Athletes are Now?

Glenn Swier in 1976

Glenn Swier ’76

Sport: Soccer

Academic major: Psychology/Religion Composite

Athletic achievements: All-MIAA, 1973-75; MIAA MVP, 1974 and 1975

Glenn Swier has dedicated his life and career to faithful service, putting his Christian beliefs into practical application. Currently, he is the associate director of formation for ministry and director of the dual track MDiv-MSW program at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, a position he has held for the past 14 years. 

Glenn Swier today

Immediately after graduation from Hope, Swier worked on the adult psychiatric ward at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. Later, he served with community development ministries in South Korea and Botswana for a total of four years with his wife, Ruth Muyskens ’76 Swier. Upon returning to the United States each time, Swier worked in urban ministry, first at The Other Way and then with Heartside Ministry in Grand Rapids. 

When his three adult sons were younger, Swier coached them — and a whole bunch of other boys, too — on the varsity soccer team at Grand Rapids Union High School, a role he held for 15 years. He holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan. 

Of his time at Hope, Swier says, “It was a real formative experience for me. It awoke my sense and awareness of a bigger world. It made me ask, ‘What does a Christian do who takes his faith seriously when there’s a lot of injustice that goes on around the world? What is my response to that?’”

Swier has spent his entire career giving his answer.

Linda Percy in 1983

Linda Percy ’84

Sport: Volleyball

Academic majors: Mathematics and Accounting 

Athletic achievements: All-MIAA, 1982, 1983; MIAA MVP, 1983

To know much of Linda Percy’s journey, all you have to do is look at her passport. Percy has traveled the world as a wildlife conservationist and foreign service officer, using her knowledge of accounting and finance to move her along the way. 

Immediately after graduating from Hope, Percy worked as an accountant for Whirlpool in Michigan, and then as a CPA at DeLoitte and Touche in Chicago and London, England. She left that latter post to become a financial consultant for Shell Oil in Bulgaria, where she also taught at the American University in Blagoevgrad. But, after working two full-time jobs for two years, Percy decided to take a six-month “walkabout” around Australia and New Zealand, and “eventually I landed on the African continent,” she says. 

Linda Percy today

Since 1995, in Africa is mostly where she has stayed. Percy has worked in wildlife conservation in Cameroon, Congo, Uganda and Gabon as well as in Fiji in the South Pacific. “I started out at Hope as pre-veterinary,” Percy explains. “I love animals. But when I got a B+ on my first bio exam, I knew I needed to switch majors since at that time you practically needed a perfect 4.0 to get into vet school. I really enjoyed math and accounting and was inspired by my Hope profs. I’ve been blessed to use my financial background to travel around the world and try to make a difference.”

Since 2008, Percy has worked for the U.S. Foreign Service, first with the U.S. State Department and now with USAID. Fluent in French, she has worked in Haiti, Mali, Senegal and now Uganda with those two organizations.

Percy is also the parent of two adopted children from Liberia,
a son (20) and a daughter (17).

Paul Lillie in 2000

Paul Lillie ’00

Sport: Tennis

Athletic achievements: MIAA MVP, 2000; All-MIAA, 1998-2000

Academic major: Biology on a pre-med track

Paul Lillie’s route toward working in the world of law took an academic path first through the natural sciences. As a biology major, Lillie had planned on having a career in medicine, taking all the pre-med requirements to enter medical school. But he changed his mind late in his college career and decided medicine was not for him. For a few years after graduation, he worked as a full-time tennis instructor and boys and girls high school tennis coach in Minneapolis. Then in 2005, Lillie enrolled in law school at Hamline University. He received his J.D. in 2008.

Paul Lillie today

“It was good that I had gone through the whole pre-med process,” says Lille, looking back. “My education at Hope was excellent. Not only did I learn a lot through the liberal arts, I was set up well to go into law. I had exposure to many academic areas and the scientific background, specifically, lent itself to law as far as the technical aspects, breaking things down and analyzing them.”

Today, Lillie is an account manager for the Thomson Reuters Corporation in Chicago, working with lawyers daily to market and sell different solution-based products to law firms.  

When he’s asked to recall his fondest memories of college, Lillie says, “The people come to mind when I remember Hope. I met so many great people. My academic advisor, Maura Reynolds, was fantastic and a great supportive influence. I had many excellent professors, my tennis coach (Steve Gorno), who valued academics and being a good person both on and off the tennis court, and my teammates who became lifelong friends. At Hope, I felt like I had the complete college experience, academically, athletically and socially.”

Sheri McCormack in 2013

Sheri McCormack ’14

Sport: Cross Country, Track and Field

Academic major: Spanish with a chemistry minor on
a pre-dental track

Athletic achievements: Cross country — All-MIAA, 2011, 2013; MIAA MVP, 2013; 17th place at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships, 2013; Track — All-MIAA, 2012-14; 6th place in the NCAA Division III Track and Field Championships, 1500 meters, 2014

Sheri McCormack had — and still has — a way of putting smiles on people’s faces. McCormack consistently achieved at a high level to the delight of her coaches, professors, family, friends and, of course, herself. Now practicing general dentistry in Goldsboro, North Carolina, she earned her doctor of dental surgery degree from the University of Michigan in 2018 and also completed a residency at East Carolina University in 2019. 

Sheri McCormack today

Today, her running is limited. “The last race I did was the Boston Marathon in 2016,” she says. “I actually try not to run too much anymore because I really want my knees to work when I’m 70, and I’ve already put a lot of mileage on them.”

Asked her most memorable class at Hope, McCormack does not reference a science or major class. Instead, she remembers her freshman First-Year Seminar, taught then by Rick Dernberger. “The class was called ‘Crucial Conversations’ and we had to buy a book with the same title,” she recalls. “It gave a lot of really great tools when talking through difficult situations. It’s always helpful to know how to do that no matter what stage of life you’re in. I still have that book. I loan it to friends quite a bit because a lot of people do have high-stakes conversations. I read it in 2010 and over nine years later, I still reread it to think about the techniques. That class transformed the way I talk to people.”