Finishing Lines: To Lesotho with Love

Before I begin, I have something to disclose right at the start of this “Finishing Lines” essay: I didn’t touch a basketball for all of summer 2019. Yes, basketball has been a huge part of my life since before I can even remember. I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a few consecutive days without being in a gym with a ball in my hands. I love basketball. I always have and I always will. But I was willing to go basketball-free for an entire summer in 2019. Why? Because basketball is just what I play. For three months last summer, I wanted to learn more about who I want to become. 

So, I went to Lesotho in Africa. 

I went to Lesotho to intern with the social worker at Beautiful Gate, an organization that exists to reach out to orphaned, abandoned and neglected children ages newborn to five years old, and give them the love they need and deserve. In a country afflicted by overwhelming poverty and extreme disease, children can often be given little regard and love. Beautiful Gate says, “We will love these children and give them a home until we find their forever families.”

One of my responsibilities at Beautiful Gate was conducting assessments of the children during my last few days there. Assessment questions were different based on the ages of the kids, but I was assessing their eating habits, physical and emotional development, language, behavior and social interaction. (Quick shout-out to my outstanding Hope social work professors who laid an educational foundation for me to do this already!) It was a long process and a bit draining as I spent the day reading files of difficult situations, but it was also amazing for me to be able to assess them based on the time that I came to know them throughout the summer. 

So, you see, I looked right into the eyes of a lot of brokenness in Lesotho, but honestly, there is just as much brokenness in the U.S. Children should not have to go through horrific things only to grow up in an orphanage, or get lost in the foster care system.

One day in particular was extremely tough, though. It was the day we experienced an infant death. I had the opportunity to go to the hospital to see this babe a few hours before she passed, and it was beyond hard. Seeing that sweet little one hooked up to various machines and tubes was heart-wrenching, to put it lightly. Her brain filled with fluid, and eventually they found her to have no brain activity. She passed away a few days later.

So, loss happens quite often at BG. Some loss is beautiful, though, like times in which children are united with their forever families and we have to say goodbye so that they can be with the people whom the Lord intended for them. Some loss is just plain hard. And let me tell you, the death of that baby was just plain hard.

Yet, that hard, hard death helped me learn so much about grief. It’s difficult during those times to give glory where it’s due or to find the good, but it’s also during those times that God reveals himself the most. God works through the hard things. He shows up, responds and teaches if you’re willing to listen and learn. That sweet baby girl will no longer have earthly suffering. She will not experience life as an orphan. She’s with Jesus, she’s healthy and she’s so loved by her heavenly Father. The grief became lighter once I acknowledged this, and for that I am thankful. 

Hard times were softened by good times, too. I had the opportunity to witness six adoptions and go on a follow-up for the reunification of a five-month-old baby. The BG social worker took me to a rural village where we climbed a mountain to a one-room home where this baby’s grandmother lived. There, we assessed the family’s living conditions and gathered information about what the family was like, whether or not they had an interest in taking the child and what sorts of resources they could provide. 

So, you see, I looked right into the eyes of a lot of brokenness in Lesotho, but honestly, there is just as much brokenness in the U.S. Children should not have to go through horrific things only to grow up in an orphanage, or get lost in the foster care system. What they SHOULD have are people who are fully devoted to advocating for their needs when they’re vulnerable. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, both here in the U.S. and abroad. Having spent hours upon hours with the children at Beautiful Gate, it breaks my heart knowing that many of them will remain there for many years without entering into a forever family. That’s an intense realization.

But I’m excited to continue studying social work and hopefully be a part of a solution to a lot of brokenness here or in another country, wherever the Lord leads. After this summer, I know with 100% certainty that I’m going to be a social worker and that I want to work with children. It’s hard work and emotionally heavy more often than not, yet it’s all worthwhile and rewarding. 

If I can make even a small difference in the lives of children and families, then every difficult thing will forever be worth it. 

Photographs contributed by Kenedy Schoonveld ’21

Emari Hardy: Focused on Academics and Athletics

Emari Hardy walked into the Phelps Dining Hall with his football team this August, wearing his hat on backwards and a big smile on his face.

The Hope College junior is quite comfortable around campus now. But he recalls his first days as a college freshman in 2017 when that wasn’t always the case.

Instead, at that time, questions of uncertainty swirled inside his head: “How do I balance football and studying? What if I have questions about my future? Whatif I’m stressed, and I need someone to talk to? Where do I go?”

Junior Emari Hardy

The peace of mind Hardy sought was found when he enrolled in Hope’s FOCUS program which aims to help incoming freshman transition to college through additional support and advising.

“Coming in my freshman year, the FOCUS program helped me a lot,” said Hardy, a thriving two-sport student-athlete. “It helped me stay on track from high school to college. The program helps students plan and study, and it helped me balance school and football.”

Hardy has chosen psychology as his major. He is building on an interest that started in high school.

Hardy is majoring in psychology

 “I’m thinking about going into child psychology or sports psychology,” Hardy said. “This past spring semester, I took a sports psychology class and I really liked it. I’ve learned to be aware of the mental aspect of life, more aware of people and how they decide to do things. It’s helped me recognize that in other people and not to be too quick to judge everyone. You have to get to know them and understand where they’re coming from.”

Hardy is grateful for how Hope’s FOCUS program helped set him up for success on and off the field. The FOCUS program — which stands for Fall Opportunity to Continue Upward Scholastically — has been helping Hope students since the 1970s. The new director of the program is Betsy Hoisington. 

“This program is all about effort,” Hoisington said. “If a student shows up, takes advantage of support and resources, and does the work, their potential for success is limitless. When students, like Emari, see this as an opportunity to build a solid academic foundation, they get to build upon their new skills and abilities the rest of college and beyond.”

Hardy (1) runs a route

Hope College football coach Peter Stuursma sees the benefits for Hope students, regardless if they participate in athletics or not.

“The FOCUS program, in my opinion, is a Hope gem,” Stuursma said. “We take young people who show great potential in high school, but their SATs or GPA don’t show that on paper. We know they have the ability to work because they’ve shown progression through high school. When they get to Hope, they meet with an advisor every week. They have certain checkpoints and established regimens like study schedules and communication with professors. It helps give them the strategy and the tools.”

The advisor who mentored Hardy during his first semester was David James, an adjunct associate professor of English and the coordinator of academic coaching. He has been a FOCUS advisor since 1990.

“Professor James helped me a lot,” Hardy said. “I would meet with him every Friday, and we’d go through my schedule and he’d make sure I was getting things done. If I was struggling in a class, he’d help get me a tutor. It was nice to have someone to help in the transition. We’d talk about football, as well.”

Getting started in the 800m for the Flying Dutchmen track team

Stuursma said the FOCUS program is a great benefit to student-athletes such as Hardy, who is a 5-foot-11 wide receiver for the Hope football team as well as a sprinter for the Flying Dutchmen indoor and outdoor track and field teams. Last year, Hardy played in 10 games, collected 153 yards in receiving and scored one touchdown.

Hardy said knowing how to block for his running backs is just as important as running patterns and catching passes.

 “As a wide receiver in our program, there’s a lot of things they expect you to do,” he said. “With the guys we have running the ball, when they get out on the edge, as a receiver, we have to know how to block. And you also have to make sure you can catch the ball when the play calls for it because that might be the only chance you get.”

“Actually, (student-athletes) often say it’s more helpful when they are in-season because things are regimented. The majority of student-athletes say they do much better, despite being tired and having less time, because they don’t have time to goof around.” — David James

“We’ve always felt that our student-athletes do better in school during the (football) season than out-of-season,” Stuursma said. “That’s because of structured time and time management they have to employ. They don’t have time to do other things. They have to do school, football, study, meals, rest, repeat.”

James agrees. 

“You’d think (playing a sport) would be a disadvantage,” James said of student-athletes. “Actually, (student-athletes) often say it’s more helpful when they are in-season because things are regimented. The majority of student-athletes say they do much better, despite being tired and having less time, because they don’t have time to goof around.”

Staying focused is a key to success, whether in a competitive athletic setting or in the classroom. This fall, Hope’s FOCUS program is helping between 40 and 45 students and aiming for more success stories like Hardy’s, James said. 

 “It worked how it was supposed to work with Emari. He did quite well,” James said. “I would say the overall success rate in the program is tremendous.”

The Complementary Cohorts of Volleyball and Research

One researched how to curb the effects of phantom limb pain in amputees; one worked with chemical modeling and computer programming to find simpler equations for vapor pressures; and, one analyzed specific proteins in the cell to transcribe DNA into RNA.

During the summer of 2019 in the research labs of the Schaap Science Center and VanderWerf Hall, sophomores McKenna Otto (biomedical engineering major), Tracy Westra (environmental engineering major), and Sasha Poland (biology major) threw down scientific knowledge with as much effort and gusto as they give their sport. The three are a sampling of the overall academic dedication ever at work, even in the summer, on the Hope College volleyball team — owners of an astounding Hope athletics team-best average GPA of 3.72.

Left to right: Tracy Westra, Sasha Poland and McKenna Otto in front of the Schaap Science Center

 “At Hope, we believe in educating the whole person, and McKenna, Sasha and Tracy are great examples of that,” said head coach Becky Schmidt. “They have demonstrated that they are exceptionally strong students through their discipline and conscientiousness.  They open their textbooks after finding their seats on the bus and can often be heard discussing class topics with teammates before practice. It is one thing to follow the directions on a syllabus and do what you need to do, learn what you need to learn in order to do well in a class. 

“Research is different,” Schmidt continues. “ While there are rules to follow in research, the process of adding new knowledge is more vague than the process of learning old knowledge.  It takes curiosity to ask better questions, perseverance to continue after frustrating results, and creativity to find new solutions to the problem.  These are skills that make for good scientists — and interestingly, they are the same skills that make for good volleyball players, too.” 

“I think it’s just cool how all of our opportunities here can blend together and we can use the lessons from each, from athletics, from chapel and Bible studies, from academics, to make us well-rounded people.” — Tracy Westra

 For Poland, Otto and Westra, extending their education into the summer months was a privilege each sought, pursued and never took for granted. Their entry into the world of STEM research came early in their academic careers, but since it’s a world that the three have plans to continue living in for a long while, making themselves at home with scientific equipment, methods and jargon seemed like the thing to do after their freshman years. And because of their early exposure, they found that world to be quite comfortable.

Sasha Poland, right, celebrates a Hope point with Tracy Westra, left.

“In general, I feel like Hope creates all of these opportunities that other schools may not have,” says Poland, she of the DNA-RNA research. “I just heard a talk at a symposium at Hope about diversity, and specifically women, in STEM, and I appreciate that Hope makes that a priority. So, getting the opportunity to do research here — something I never thought of pursuing prior to taking gen chem — and then feeling comfortable with it because of awesome professors is just amazing.”

Otto and Westra are both Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholars, a program that helps Hope address the national gender gap in STEM fields by providing research experiences and mentoring support to female Hope students majoring in computer science, engineering and physics. The duo’s selection as CBL scholars in 2019 (along with six other Hope women) is a sign indicative of their academic qualifications as well as their passion for their fields of study.

McKenna Otto at the net

“One reason why I was super interested in being a Clare Boothe Luce Scholar was for the outreach part of the program,” says Otto who researched ways for amputees to manage phantom limb pain. “I think it’s definitely important for young girls to see women in STEM, yes, but also for young boys who get to see women interested in science and be good at it. It is a cool opportunity that we get to be with middle schoolers showing them things like virtual reality googles and other stuff. . . It’s just great to be able to pass on what we love.”

Tray Westra sets the ball

Balancing all of their interests — academic, athletic and otherwise — is a feat that requires as much concentration and organization as the hand-eye aptitude needed by an middle hitter, setter or libero. Middle hitter Otto, setter Westra and libero Poland handle their many-tasks-up-in-the-air acts deftly by looking to each other and their teammates to keep them even-keeled and, frankly, sane. With to-do lists that extend an arm’s length when they are in season, the volleyball court is their sanctuary, even though the demands there can feel as intense and difficult as the ones they have in the classroom. Yet, they do it all and they do it all well.

“I think it’s just cool how all of our opportunities here can blend together and we can use the lessons from each, from athletics, from chapel and Bible studies, from academics, to make us well-rounded people,” exudes Westra, the vapor-pressure equation researcher. “Being able to combine all of these things into our Hope experience is what a college education is all about.”

Planting Seeds, Growing Hope

Five Hope College women’s soccer student-athletes on this season’s roster have travelled to Africa, Central America and Asia as SEED program participants. SEED stands for Sport Evangelism to Equip Disciples, and over the past three summers, 121 Hope student-athletes, along with a more than a dozen Hope coaches and staff, have brought compassion, care and Jesus Christ to eager children and their families.

What memories were made and lessons learned from going around the world with SEED? Read some of the five women’s insights below.

Megan Bigelow and friends in Ghana

Senior Megan Bigelow, a business and economics double major from Flushing, Michigan, went to Ghana in 2018.

In Ghana, I met people who lacked much more than me in material goods but were so, so much richer in love for the Lord. That single statement is something I still chew on today. It is easy to sit and talk about how I need to act more grateful, but the emotions I felt in Ghana from the kids and families were so genuine, I can’t explain it. To me, it is not just adding a segment to my prayers about thankfulness; it is about finding ways that I am brought back to the authentic, unconditional love the Ghanaians had for God. I owe Ghana for the courage I found in myself to accept my journey as it was and to continue to find ways to be the hands and feet of the Lord in the most authentic ways I can. 

Sarah McCoy and friends in India

Senior Sarah McCoy, a nursing major from Stevensville, Michigan, went to India in 2017.

On the surface, leading (sports) camp seemed to be a normal game of small-sided soccer or volleyball, but beneath, relationships were being built through play, laughter, and competition. I never really realized how sports could be a vehicle for mission work. I watched kids learn how to play (American) football for the first time, got my butt kicked in 4-on-4 soccer by some talented 10-year-olds, and saw kids hysterically laugh during our huge game of “rhinos and monkeys” (sharks and minnows). Sports are universal—meaning the lessons, impact, and enjoyment are fluid between cultures. The impact of a smile, genuine conversation, game of catch, or prayer is so powerful. As a student-athlete, this principle can be applied to how we treat our teammates, opponents, and those who look up to us.

Audrey White, Hannah Mitroff and MeKenna VanKoevering in the Dominican Republic

Sophomore Hannah Mitroff, an exercise science and psychology double major from Rochester, Michigan, went to the Dominican Republic in 2019.

 The biggest takeaway from my trip was that mission work never ends. You don’t need to be abroad in a small village to be a missionary. God calls us to be missionaries, and that can begin in our own community. Maybe it’s becoming more selfless or joyful, participating in more community service, or maybe it’s slowing down and appreciating God’s love in everything and everyone around you. Whatever it is, He calls us to love others and serve others, no matter where we’re at.

Junior MeKenna VanKoevering, a nursing major from Zeeland, Michigan, went the Dominican Republic in 2019.

My faith grew a lot from this trip. I learned so much about myself and about God. I was blown away by the kids we met there and hearing their faith stories were incredible. God spoke to me through this trip and through the people I met in the Dominican Republic but also the people within our Hope group. And from this trip, I have a greater understanding of how faith can be a part of athletics. The ministries we partnered with were really cool, and they were very diligent in how they were spreading the word and love of God to the kids through sports. We got to step in for a week and help do this. That made me so glad I am a part of Hope Athletics.

God calls us to be missionaries, and that can begin in our own community. Maybe it’s becoming more selfless or joyful, participating in more community service, or maybe it’s slowing down and appreciating God’s love in everything and everyone around you. — Hannah Mitroff

Junior Audrey White, a nursing major from Hudsonville, Michigan, went to the Dominican Republic in 2019.

There was a lot of little moments that really stood out to me, but honestly, there was never that one big moment. And that’s what I expected, but looking back on the whole program, what was on my mind through the whole trip was wanting to see God every day, all day, even in the little things. So, I went into this program thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to have this huge, eye-opening experience. My life is going to change because of one encounter or revelation.’ That didn’t happen but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t changed. In talking with Caroline (Dykstra, the SEED director), we discussed how this whole trip isn’t supposed to just put us on the spiritual high for a week and then have it just drop away when we get home. Instead, we need to keep our eyes open and we need to keep seeing God every single day, all the time in our everyday lives, too. It was honestly a life-changing experience. I’ll take things from my time in the Dominican for the rest of my life. I’ll never forget my SEED trip.

Athletes’ Journal: Mitchel Achien’g

From the outside looking in at my track and field season last year, it seemed like every measure of time and distance I ran or jumped was a great success. I was the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association indoor triple jump champion and 100m hurdles champion. I was voted the Most Valuable Indoor Field Athlete by MIAA and ended my season ranked 44th in the nation in the heptathlon. I also earned all-region honors from United States Track & Field Coaches Association in the pentathlon, heptathlon, triple jump, and long jump. That’s all great, right?

Well, what these accolades don’t mention are the tears, frustrations, and the many hurdles I had to overcome to get there and eventually make me the person I am today.

Many of my friends and professors whom I talked to gave me the same hard-to-hear advice: quit track and spend more time studying. And at that time, I thought that was the most sensible thing to do.

I’m an economics major and in the fall of 2018, I got an opportunity to study abroad for a semester in Freiburg, Germany, through the European Union program of IES. I was excited about this, but it also meant missing fall training and the first quarter of my official indoor track season. When I returned to Hope in January, 2019, I had only two weeks before my first track meet. I knew I was not in my best shape and so I trained hard. I felt like I was ready to compete by the time January 19th came around, but I was proven wrong. That Saturday winter morning had been bleak and grey and that was my mood for that day, too. My performance was horrible and could only be compared to my performance in my first-ever track meet. My next three meets were not any better and I got frustrated.

Mitchel Achien'g hurdling
Mitchel Achien’g ran into more hurdles this past track season than the ones at the 2019 MIAA Track and Field Championships

To add to my athletic performance stress, I was not doing well in classes either. I am on an academic scholarship that requires I achieve and maintain a certain GPA, so the thought of losing my scholarship did not make things any easier for me. Many of my friends and professors whom I talked to gave me the same hard-to-hear advice: quit track and spend more time studying. And at that time, I thought that was the most sensible thing to do.

Fast forward to the Windy City Invitational meet in early February. Every time I looked at the results screen, I saw the same shattering, disheartening results. I just could not run fast anymore. To make things worse, I no-heighted in high jump in the pentathlon at the same meet.  My coach Kevin Cole kept assuring me, “We will get those times down.” But I mumbled in exasperation, “If my times don’t go down soon, I am quitting track.” 

I was ready to quit. I really was. I even scheduled study sessions with my professor the next week during my team’s practice. It was time I moved on without track in my life and focus on my studies.

Mitchel Achien'g triple-jumping

But something providential happened. God got in the details. It turned out that my professor could not make it to our first study session that Monday afternoon, because he was a speaker at a conference out of state. Somehow I found myself at practice that day. I skipped the normal practice session and only went to the weight-room session. Lifting has always been my favorite part of training and it was during this session that I realized that quitting track was not an option, and neither was failing my classes. 

That is when things changed for me. I studied more and studied smarter. I trained even harder spending several hours watching YouTube videos when I was not on the track, weight room, or studying. Several times, I turned down opportunities to hang out with friends. But I knew this was the best thing for me to do at that moment. I was happy with the end results: several track and field accolades and making the dean’s list again. Yet these four important lessons that I learned probably made me happiest of all:

1. Trust the process.

As an athlete, patience is a virtue that if you lack, you must learn and develop. I had to stop overtraining and overanalyzing my results and become patient and trust in my training. The training process is not all about the weight room and track. It involves maturity, discipline, leadership on and off the track, and emotional growth. Did I mention that training was a process and not an instant thing?

2. Mental toughness: It is all in the head.

I spent several hours training on the track and several more in the weight room, working to improve my technique, speed, power and endurance every week. It is because of my abilities in these areas that my coach trusted me to continue to compete. It is hard to believe in yourself when things are not going well, yet this is the time when you need to have a positive mindset, self-belief and a champion’s attitude in order to perform well. Learning how to press that reset button in the face of adversity, forgetting the past and focusing on the challenge ahead is what kept me going even when my body told me otherwise. Focusing on why I was on that track or field gave me the confidence to keep pushing and executing.

3. Learn how to rest.

Taking a break at a time when you think you should be spending more time in the field honing your skills seems like an unintelligent idea. Sometimes though, our bodies and minds just need time to recover, rebuild and refocus. Psychological stress can lead to injuries, strains and can ultimately slow your body down making it harder to perform. Rest is an equally important part of training as it plays a role in building muscles and endurance. Not having rest therefore means that you are not training optimally.

4. Hang in there.

My final athletic lesson, which also turned out to help improve my academics, is this: Don’t write your story before it is finished. It is not the person who has the 30m lead or the person who has the 70m lead that wins the 100m race, but it is the person who crosses the finish line first. And sometimes, you just need to cross that finish line because it is not always all about winning, but giving your best shot.

*Editor’s note: Senior Mitchel Achien’g, a native of Nairobi, Kenya, is a six-time Hope College dean’s list student and a three-time MIAA Honor Roll honoree.


The mission of the Hope Athletes’ Journal is to provide Hope College student-athletes with a platform to express their challenges and joys in order for coaches, peers, prospective students, and fans to relate to, understand, and appreciate their stories beyond their games. This project, initiated by Stephen Binning ’19, encourages and invites Hope student-athletes to write vulnerable, principled, honest, and respectful stories that ultimately knit our college even closer together.

If you or someone you know has a story that could be shared on the Hope Athletes’ Journal, please contact Eva Dean Folkert ( or Lindsey Engelsman (

Mitchel Achien’g’s Long Jump from Nairobi to Hope

While most American college freshmen prepare for their new life away from home by stocking up at Target, packing up the family car and driving a few hours away to a new U.S. city, Hope College junior Mitchel Achien’g (pronounced Me-Shell Aah-Ching) instead packed a couple suitcases, said her goodbyes and grabbed her passport for a 7,904-mile international flight, the first of many leaps of faith she would be taking into her future.

Achien’g’s story begins in Nairobi, the largest city and capital of Kenya, where she grew up. A Hope College admissions representative had stopped by to recruit in her school, Kisumu High School, and Achien’g liked what she heard. She came to Hope as a first-generation college student and an adventurer. Little did she know at the time that in just two years, she would set a school record on the Hope women’s track and field team.

Achien’g had been a field hockey athlete in high school. She had never tried track and field before or even considered it as a real possibility. Instead, when she got to Hope, Achien’g tried women’s lacrosse for the first time during her first fall. When spring rolled around, though, she received the unfortunate news that she had been cut from the team. The news was disheartening, but women’s lacrosse coach Kim Vincent offered Achien’g a new hope. Vincent recognized the freshman’s speed and athletic ability and encouraged her to try track and field.

When asked her thoughts on joining a new team and a new sport she had never played, Achien’g says, “At that point I didn’t really think that was an option. I never even thought about doing track. I just said forget about it at the time.”

It took Achien’g only three weeks of sitting idle to realize she was missing something very valuable in her life. She decided she had to keep moving so she joined the women’s track and field team and has been one of the top athletes for Hope ever since.

If it isn’t obvious already, Achien’g has a tendency to quite literally jump into new things and not look back. And she doesn’t just want to try something new; she is determined to work hard and shine at whatever she attempts. Coach Cole explains, “She has a lot of natural ability, but the biggest thing is she just wants to be good. She has a lot of desire to excel at everything she does and by everything, that’s pretty much everything. She sees a new event, and she wants to try it even if she’s not very good at it. When she starts out, she works at it until she gets good at it.”

When the 2019 MIAA Indoor Championship rolled around in February, Achien’g took yet another big leap, this time in the triple jump…for the first time. (Prior to that, she had been competing in sprints, hurdles and long and high jumps.) She wanted a new challenge, but mostly,  she was looking to help her team, to do anything within her athletic ability to secure a win for the Flying Dutch. 

Since Achien’g was sure she could help, she approached Cole with this eager, determined and begging request. “I said, ‘Coach, just put me in the triple jump. I’m sure that in even my worst jump, I can at least earn a point for the school. I can do it.’”

Resistant at first, Cole relented and gave the okay. Achien’g would go on to not only win the triple jump but she set an indoor school record of 35 feet, 3 1/4 inches. She was also named the MIAA’s Most Valuable Field Athlete at the league meet, and she tied the school record in the outdoor triple jump in March with a leap of 37 feet, 1 3/4 inches that matched Shaelie Harper’s 2010 Flying Dutch record.

Achien’g’s ability to set her mind to a task, no matter the newness or difficulty level including as an economics major working for the Association of Christian Economists this summer, has become an inspiration for the Hope track and field team. Close friend and teammate Emily Tyner explains, “I’ve found that she’s kind of like this solid rock for the team and knows what she’s doing at all times. She gives such great encouragement, so it’s just really comforting to have her around because you know she’s looking out for you.

Many others would agree with Tyner’s description of Achien’g. Now as she prepares to help the Hope women’s track and field team defend and recapture a league title at the MIAA championships hosted at Hope this week, Achien’g is ready to jump in feet first.

Gino Battaglia’s Heart For Servant-Leadership in Quest of MIAA Championships

Leading the Flying Dutchmen in their quest for another championship has been senior captain Gino Battaglia’s main focus in his last season as part of the men’s lacrosse team. But as he looks back at his time at Hope, he beams with pride at the growth he’s seen in the Hope squad over the last four years.

Gino Battagalia

It’s been a time when the Flying Dutchmen have advanced up the MIAA standings ladder, from fifth place in 2016, to tie for second place in 2017, to first place in 2018. As the team stands undefeated in the MIAA so far this season, a second league title is within reach if Hope can beat Albion, also undefeated, on Tuesday, April 23 at 7 p.m. at home.

Battaglia commends the coaches and the big personalities who have dedicated their time and energy to create a chemistry that prevails on and off the field. That strong bond and shift in winning mentality carried them to their first regular season MIAA championship and longest win streak in team history in 2018. This year, they’ve been striving to replicate that equation.

It’s clear the Dayton, Ohio-native operates on a team-first mentality, but it’s also been a road of personal growth for Battaglia, who has come a long way from the jovial freshman who was more concerned about making an on-the-field impact than being the heart of the team’s camaraderie as he is now. In the end, he’s been able to do and be both.

“I definitely started to take more of a leadership role as the years have progressed,” Battaglia said. “Sophomore year, I turned to mentoring the freshmen coming in and getting them through that first-year process. By junior year, becoming captain, it really was more about leading the whole team… and just being someone all the players can count on.”

Battaglia in action as a sophomore in 2017

A good sense of humor, doused with playful sarcasm, are still Battaglia’s trademarks, but he also emphasizes the importance of knowing when to flip the switch and get things done.

Lacrosse is a game of both physical and mental endurance that can bring a range of emotions, so Battaglia makes it a priority to provide the team with what they need in the moment — whether it’s cracking a joke to break the tension or rallying up to get everyone locked and focused before a game. He’s not one to shy away from giving his two cents during practice either, noting that the smallest details and improvements can make the biggest difference.

Battaglia personifies servant leadership on and off the field, says head coach Michael Schanhals, who is “perfect balance of what Division III athletics is all about.”

“Gino is the total package, and I have the utmost respect for him as a player and a person,” Schanhals raved. “He will do anything for the team. We don’t even need to ask — he already knows what needs to be done and just does it.”

Battaglia in action as a senior this season.

This proved true when Battaglia volunteered to switch from attacker to midfielder his sophomore year when he noticed two freshmen attackmen who he said were “too good to not have them on the field.” He played attacker again his junior year, earning all-conference, but once again spoke up to shift to midfielder this season to give talented underclassmen the playing time.

For Battaglia, it’s about the team aspect and doing what would be best to make them most successful. He also joked that it’s easy to be a jack of all trades, but ask anyone who knows him, and they’ll tell you he masters anything he’s a part of.

“He’s worked his tail off on the field to be better and faster, and develop into the player he is today.” Schanhals said. “He’s capitalized on all the opportunities that have come his way, and that’s both as an athlete and a student.”

Battaglia, left with arms raised, and Schanhals, right, celebrate a Hope goal recently against Calvin.

Battaglia, a mechanical engineer major, has already secured a job post graduation as an applications engineer at Koops, Inc. in Holland, where he interned this past summer. Math and science always came easy to him, and when his dad, an aerospace engineer, suggested he pursue mechanical engineering and find a field he was passionate about within that, Battaglia knew he’d found his path.

“The cool thing about engineering is that it’s so open-ended, and you can build upon skills you already have to make things within an industry more efficient and streamlined, which is what I’m most looking forward to,” Battaglia said.

“Hope has showed me that no matter who you are, no matter what you believe in, there’s always going to be awesome people out there. You just gotta open your mind up a bit.”

He’s also excited about the month-long break between graduation and starting the job, when he’ll get to fulfill a childhood dream of rebuilding a car with his grandpa Jim in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The two share their love for cars, and it’s something they’ve always talked about but never had the time for.

The best part? Battaglia will get to keep the 1940s Ford truck they work on this summer.

For now, Battaglia will continue to focus on the in-between moments of being a student athlete, where he says the best memories happen.

“I’ve met some of the best people [at Hope] and have gained some awesome friendships in a seemingly short amount of time,” Battaglia said. “Hope has showed me that no matter who you are, no matter what you believe in, there’s always going to be awesome people out there. You just gotta open your mind up a bit.”

Athletes’ Journal: Annie Veld


My name is Annie Veld. I am a senior social work major from Holland, Michigan, and I’m currently studying in Chicago for the semester. In the fall of 2018, I finished my last season as a member of the Hope College women’s soccer team.

When I first found out about the Hope Athletes’ Journal, I thought it was such a cool idea. Initially, I never thought I could share my story because I wasn’t ready to; it was something I thought I’d never want to talk about. But after more consideration, I realized that everyone has a story and everyone has struggles they face. This is mine.

Women’s soccer begins in the fall; that means that my summers are spent working hard to stay in shape and be game ready. And I was going into my junior season. I was an upperclassman now, so I hoped for more playing time and wanted to be someone who underclassmen look up to.

I was excited to see what the season would bring, but little did I know that it would turn into an experience that would become one of the hardest years of my life.

It was August during our first preseason scrimmage at home and I felt great physically. I felt confident with my play too and that was rare for me. All went well until I woke up two days later and could barely walk due to a sharp pain in my knee. I was not super worried, though;  soccer is all about getting banged up on a regular basis, so I thought the pain would go away. But treatment after treatment, it didn’t subside. Eventually I got an MRI that showed I had a contusion on the outside of my knee that caused pain whenever I took a step.

When I heard the diagnosis, I wasn’t really sure how to handle it. The doctors gave me two options: (A) take the season off to heal and get healthy during the winter months for upcoming senior year, or (B) try to play through it. If I choose option B, I would have a longer recovery time once the season was over AND I would continue to have pain that would only get worse.

It was my decision to make and it was so hard; so much harder than the doctors just telling me what to do. I struggled with the idea of wanting to be healthy for my senior season or playing through it because it was “just a contusion.” “Just a contusion” — I felt stupid that I would eventually choose to take the season off for something like this, even though doctors, athletic trainers, and coaches reminded me that this was a serious injury because it had to do with my bones.

All of that was the setup. Here now is the rest of my story.

I have always loved to run and exercise, so when I was told not to do any activity for a few months, I was in tears. I didn’t know how to handle it.

I knew I would have to do it in order to heal but I was devastated.

Still, I went to practice and watched my teammates play, and then we would all go to dinner.

Subconsciously, I started eating less because I knew I wasn’t working out. I thought I didn’t need as much food as my teammates. But even when I did start exercising a bit again, I still did not increase my food intake. In fact, I started eating less or not eating until later and later in the day. This routine continued to get worse and worse, but I did not see a problem – I thought I was getting leaner and faster, and just eating right.

But I had a problem, and I did not realize it until I came back second semester of my junior year.  My senior soccer season would be in jeopardy if I could not get my weight back up. This snapped me back to reality.

I did not realize it at the time, but this eating disorder would be one of the hardest things I ever had to fight. Harder than any soccer opponent or practice set.

With this realization, and out of nowhere, came the panic attacks and the constant need to be alone. I was at ground zero, and I realized that I didn’t know how to fuel my body anymore.

My first thought when I was given an outline for meal plans was “I can’t do this.” I was too scared to start eating more food. You would think it would be easy, right? Maybe it sounds weird, but it was absolutely terrifying. But I was focused on getting stronger, healing my mind and changing my perception of food.

The healing process started with the help of so many people — my family, my team, my coaches, my boyfriend, Hope’s athletic training staff — and it continued throughout my spring semester of junior year. It was slow. I started by talking to my parents, and then reaching out to different resources. We have a close family friend whom I think very highly of that is a certified eating disorder registered dietician. I sought her out and then I went to my coach with all of this. I think in this whole process, the most important part was communication and saying it out loud.

It was incredibly hard to name something like this, but after this I was able to start the healing process.

Talking was another crucial aspect that I needed to do. In order to get through this, I had to continue talking to my support systems. I still had all of these thoughts and fears around food, and negative thoughts would creep into my mind all the time. I would look at myself in the mirror and want to cry because I didn’t like what I saw, even though I was at my lowest weight. I felt ashamed of these thoughts, but I didn’t know how to stop them. But through the recovery process, these thoughts started getting less and less, and the fear of food was becoming less and less as well. I was able to work on getting stronger and figure out how to take care of myself again.

But I did get strong and healthy enough to play in my senior season even though I was  still recovering at that time. I had come a long way since my junior year yet I wondered it I was ever going to be happy again.

Once my senior season was done, I knew I wanted to share my story, but I still wasn’t feeling totally ready. Thankfully, I realize now as I write, I have finally found happiness and balance. That’s not to say that I was not ever happy before; it was more of a rare feeling at the time. Today though, I understand that everyone has different body types, and I am happy with mine. I know that rest days are good, and eating good food is good. I realize that life is all about balance and being vulnerable.

So here, at the end this story, I plan live into both of those things — balance and vulnerability. I do admit that there are many components to my story that are too difficult for me to put into words. It’s still hard and I’m working on it because I do know that being vulnerable brings healing and happiness. I cannot thank Hope women’s soccer enough for teaching me that.


The mission of the Hope Athletes’ Journal is to provide Hope College student-athletes with a platform to express their challenges and joys in order for coaches, peers, prospective students, and fans to relate to, understand, and appreciate their stories beyond their games. This project, initiated by Stephen Binning ’19, encourages and invites Hope student-athletes to write vulnerable, principled, honest, and respectful stories that ultimately knit our college even closer together.

If you or someone you know has a story that could be shared on the Hope Athletes’ Journal, please reach out to Lindsey Engelsman ( or Eva Dean Folkert (

If you or someone you know is in need of help, here are some resources both on and off campus:

Hope College Office of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 616-395-7945

Hope College Campus Ministries: 616-395-7145

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

National Eating Disorders Association:  1-800-931-2237

Stu Fritz’s Full-Circle-Plus Journey in the ABCA

It’s 1992 in Dallas, Texas, and Stu Fritz is an eager graduate student from Northern Colorado attending his first American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention. He is there to take in as much information and meet as many people as he can for his soon-to-be profession. And as he walks the convention’s halls, he wonders, “Who are those guys in sport coats with silver name badges?”

Press fast forward.

Stu Fritz speaks at the 2019 ABCA Convention

It’s 2019 in Dallas, Texas, and Stu Fritz is a seasoned and successful head baseball coach for Hope College attending his 28 consecutive ABCA Convention. He is there to coordinate the distribution of in-depth and innovative information on his longtime profession. And as he walks the convention halls, Fritz is one of those guys in a sport coat with a silver name badge.

It is ABCA board of directors who wear those shiny emblems.  As the ABCA’s second vice president in 2018, Fritz was the one responsible for what 7,000 baseball coaches would learn, and from whom, at the convention this past January. (Fritz had been the president of NCAA Division III with the ABCA before joining its board in 2016.) Clinics on pitching and catching, base-running and fielding, recruiting and player development, game strategy and game-time mental approach were all topics selected by Fritz and his committee. And, he found the speakers, too, for 25 mainstage presentation at the world’s largest baseball clinic.

“It was a dream come true,” Fritz says. “I know that might sound a little aggressive, but working on this year’s convention, working with all the guys I worked with, it was just a thrill for me.”

Fritz introducing former Major Leaguer Mike Matheny

Through his own personal connections — which run deep in baseball fields across the country and all NCAA divisions — and by his professional invitations, Fritz got creative. He stretched topic ideas and featured speakers, including the likes of former St. Louis Cardinal Mike Matheny to give the keynote address and University of Alabama softball coach Pat Murphy to address leadership development.

“Since I’m a big Cardinal fan, having Mike agree to speak at the convention was just awesome,” Fritz explains. “And it was my goal to put a head softball coach on the mainstage of the baseball convention. Murph has been a buddy of mine since high school, and he’s become legendary in terms what he’s done with that’s programs culture and win record.”

Fritz says his days were long at the four-day event, a before-dawn and well-after dusk requirement. While he had lined up each speaker prior, he also stayed in touch with them as they developed their topics as well as introduced them to the membership before each clinic at the convention.

Then, he took a seat in the audience to gain new knowledge, too.

“We target a wide range of speakers and talking with them about their topics and programs certainly makes me a better coach,” Fritz explains. “I get to be involved with their presentation from the beginning so I learn as they continue to change their presentation to get the final product. These are some of the best baseball minds in the country so I soak up as much as I can.”

Fritz in action as Hope’s head coach

You may think that with this full-circle convention story, Fritz’s journey is complete with the ABCA, but you’d be wrong. His baseball story at Hope and with his professional organization keeps rotating. As he opens his 26th season at the helm of Flying Dutchmen this weekend, Fritz enters another year on the ABCA board as the first vice president in 2019. He’ll become its president in 2020. His interactions with the ABCA, just like this work at Hope, is about valuing relationships in the game and classroom.

“I wanted to put the best product out there for our membership as I could,” says Fritz who is also an assistant professor of kinesiology. “This is the same when I teach and coach. I believe that each student and athlete deserves the best that I have to give each day. This experience has definitely broadened my knowledge as a coach and as a professor.”

They’ve Got That Family Feeling

Standing at the edge of a collegiate diving board during a meet— back to the water, ready to leap into contortions of twists and flips and pikes, it can be a lonely place for a diver. The natatorium is silent except for the annoying slurping of gutter water. A low hum of light whispers to full-on silence falls over the crowd; all eyes, few voices. And the spotlight can be harsh, focused as it is on one place. There — several feet above the pool’s water with more height to be added once the jump occurs — the diver stands alone with diver thoughts.

But not for long.

From left to right, Sara Plohetski, Kamaron Wilcox, Coach Becca Garza, Grant Williams, Areal Tolsma, Brian Simonish

The jump, the dive, the splash, the submersion, and then swim to the side of the pool — it all covers about 15 seconds. The loud cheering and subsequent greeting from fellow diving teammates and coaches back on deck. . . that gleeful reunion takes much longer. And that is exactly why being a Hope College diver is not a lone endeavor, after all. Every one of Hope’s five divers say that they are not really a singular entity and, surprisingly, they say they are not a team either. Instead they say, separately and unprompted, that they are family.

“This family is the best thing that Hope has given to me,” says senior Areal Tolsma. “When I joined the team four years ago, I didn’t realize I was joining a family,” declares senior Sara Plohetski. I just love this family, and I know they love me, too,” says freshman Kamaron Wilcox. “The second I stepped on the pool deck, I was welcomed with open arms,” affirms sophomore Grant Williams. (Diving coach) Becca (Garza) really supports us and our growth as a family,” reiterates senior Brian Simonich.

See what I mean.

At last weekend’s MIAA Championships, three of the five members of the Hope diving family qualified for the NCAA Division III Central Region Meet, held this weekend at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. On Friday and Saturday, Plohetski, Simonich and Williams will be competing for a spot at the national championships later this month. And Tolsma and Wilcox will be there, too — cheering in the stands. Because that’s what families do.

In prayer. Photo by Tom Renner.

For Garza, that team unity is born out of each diver’s hard work and Christian character. From late September to late February (and not including out-of-season training), the divers give three hours a day to diving practice (and that includes weight-room work), plus more when it comes to their mental preparation. They also pray together at the end of each practice and before every meet.

“They push each other to be better athletes, better students and better Christians,” says Garza, who also teaches Spanish immersion for Zeeland Public Schools. “The environment they’ve created plays a large role in how successful their training has been. They challenge each other, support each other and have fun together. Our training is centered around God and the abilities He has given us to do what we love. . .That combined with mental training has made all of them stronger athletes.”

Diver Grant Williams. Photo by Lynne Powe.

To get to regionals, Plohetski, Simonich and Williams all qualified with B-cut point totals on both the 1- and 3-meter boards. Each became all-MIAA honorees, too. Williams won the MIAA title on the 3-meter and was runner-up on the 1-meter; Simonich and Plohetski took third place on each board.

The added bonus of continuing their season now with regional competition is something that none of the three takes for granted while it was also something they determinedly prepared for since day one.  Simonich knows the competition at regionals; he’s seen it twice before, and it won’t be easy.  “It is going to be pretty hard to get out of our region to nationals,” explains the senior. “But since this is potentially my last meet, I’m just going to go out there and have fun and compete and be present.”

Diver Brian Simonich. Photo by Lynne Powe

“My hope for our three divers this weekend is that they leave the pool deck Saturday night knowing they gave it all they had,” Garza says. “For my two seniors, I want them to feel like this weekend showcases their training, abilities and hard work — no matter the results. This is a fun meet and a great time to spend together. Though punching a ticket to nationals would be a great addition.”

Plohetski has the same mindset as Garza and Simonich for this weekend but really, it has been that way for her entire career at Hope. As a Division III student-athlete, all she has ever wanted to do was work hard at something she loves, no scholarships or strings attached.

“This weekend, I just want to leave it all on the boards,” the senior says. “A week ago, I didn’t even know if I would have the opportunity to compete this weekend, so having this chance is just a gift. I want to dive my dives and just glorify God through my actions and attitude through the whole weekend. I also just want to soak up every moment with my diving family.”

There it is again. That family feeling.

Follow the Hope divers progress at the NCAA Division III Central Region Meet.