HOLLAND — The 2020-21 athletic year was one like none other in Hope College history.
A pandemic postponed many events, canceled others and even put entire seasons on the shelf. Still, in many instances, the student-athletes were able to persevere and overcome to provide incredible and dramatic performances on the field, hardwood, diamond, court and all other playing surfaces.
While there were countless of great stories to choose from, five stood out among the rest. Here are the top five stories of the Hope College athletic year 2020-21.
1. Women’s basketball remains perfect
While championships were canceled for Division III winter sports because of low participation numbers, that didn’t stop the Flying Dutch.
The women’s basketball squad went a perfect 16-0 and claimed their second consecutive MIAA Tournament and regular-season title sweep. Combining their 2021 season with the pandemic-halted campaign a year ago, their win streak has ballooned up to 45 games, the longest in program history
“They just exhibit a ‘win everything’ mentality, which is the theme of our basketball program,” said coach Brian Morehouse. “It’s all about winning every situation that you’re in, not just a basketball situation. Win in the classroom, win off the court, win in your community, being a great teammate, winning every opportunity you have in the cafeteria to be kind.”
Hope finished ranked No. 1 in the nation for the second straight year as well. The group of nine graduating seniors leaves Holland with three MIAA regular-season titles, three MIAA Tournament titles and an overall career record of 98-7.
2. Hope postpones, then cancels football season
The COVID-19 pandemic derailed college football season at all levels and in the early days of the Fall. Hope College, and many other Division III programs originally decided to push their season to the spring semester, in hopes that life would have a semblance of normalcy by then.
However, in January, the Flying Dutchmen made the decision to cancel the 2020-21 season completely, opting to hold spring practices to get ready for 2021-22 instead.
“A catchphrase for this type of decision is ‘opting out,'” head coach Peter Stuursma said after the decision was made. “But I like to look at it as ‘opting in’ — opting into using this spring season to fully prepare and develop our program for the fall of 2021.”
Hope football players will return to campus in mid-August to begin fall practice. The Flying Dutchmen will kick off the 2021 fall season on Saturday, Sept. 4 as they host Anderson University at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium.
3. Baseball coach Stu Fritz earns 600th career victory
Hope’s Stu Fritz has become an institution on campus during his 28-year tenure with the Flying Dutchmen baseball team.
In what is his first college coaching job, he’s racked up program milestones like nine MIAA titles and four NCAA Tournament appearances. On May 7, he put another feather in his cap when he notched his 600th career win, thanks to a walkoff home run by Robbie Stuursma to defeat Trine.
“It was awesome, I’ve known him for a while and it just meant a lot to me to be able to give him that gift,” Stuursma said. “It was great to go give him a big hug after, I think he was trying to hold back some tears.”
Fritz, a native of Humboldt, Iowa, taught and coached in high school for a couple of years before making the leap to Hope. He made an immediate impact, winning the conference title in his first season at the helm in 1994.
He was proud of his accomplishment, though quick to pass along the credit. He said it’s more of an honor for all the players he’s coached and the administration that supported him than it is for him alone.
“There are special moments that stick out all over the place, and 600 is a milestone. I think it speaks to longevity as much as anything,” Fritz said. “You talk about an institution that has given my wife and I everything we wanted, and we’re honored we get to be at a place like this and do it with the kids we get to do it with.”
4. Two distance runners earn All-American honors
Junior Nick Hoffman earned Hope’s highest-ever finish in the men’s 1500 meter race. He earned third place at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Nationals with a time of 3 minutes, 47.74 seconds.
Ana Tucker, a sophomore, earned fourth place at the same meet in the 5,000 meters. She became the second All-American in program history in that event.
5. Women’s tennis claims 6th straight MIAA regular-season title, 9th straight tournament title
The Flying Dutch barely topped Kalamazoo to earn the regular-season title and capped their campaign with a 12-4 record before heading off to the MIAA Tournament.
There, they easily beat St. Mary’s 5-0 in the tournament semifinals to earn a spot in the MIAA Tournament Finals. They faced off with the Hornets again in the finals, where they came out on top 5-3.
“Excellence is not given to you. You have to earn it,” coach Bob Cawood said. “Every single year you have to show up and play. And on a day like today, K pushed us to that limit. This is exactly why we play this sport. Thankfully we were able to come out and have a couple of our more veteran players come up with the wins at the right time, in the right spots, and we came out on the winning end, which is awesome.
Cawood, who led the program for the last four seasons, stepped down after the 2021 campaign. A new head coach has not been named yet.