The first national women's team championship won by an MIAA member school was achieved in 1990 by a Hope College basketball team that didn't have to travel more than a mile from campus during their entire tournament run.
One by one, teams from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kentucky, and finally New York, ventured to the land of the Dutch where they succumbed to a spirited Hope team.
After winning the school’s first-ever MIAA conference championship, the Flying Dutch were invited to host the four-team NCAA division III Great Lakes regional tournament. This represented a major challenge because the Dow Center on the Hope campus was not equipped as a spectator facility. “Imaginative” seating arrangements, including chairs on the upper-level running track, provided more than 800 fans an opportunity to watch the Flying Dutch defeat St. Benedict, Minn., 73-60, and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 68-67.
It was back to the Dow Center a week later for quarterfinal action against Buena Vista, Iowa. Seating was increased to serve the more than 1,100 fans who witnessed Hope’s come-from-behind 85-79 overtime victory.
And then came the Final Four tournament. “We’d like Hope College to serve as host,” advised the NCAA.
With only a week for planning, but with plenty of support from the community, the Division III championship tournament was moved to the city-owned Holland Civic Center. Even though Hope students were on spring break, the legendary basketball palace was packed with fans. And coach Sue Wise’s Flying Dutch did not disappoint anyone.
The stage was set for the national championship game with a semi-final victory over Centre, Ky., 75-62. Top-ranked St. John Fisher, N.Y. provided the opposition. Could this team of Flying Dutch miracle workers meet the challenge once again?
The teams were tied 32-32 early in the second half when the roof appeared to cave-in on the Flying Dutch. The New Yorkers scored 20 unanswered points over a seven minute period and were on their way to national glory.
But someone forgot to tell coach Wise and her Flying Dutch that you don’t rally from huge deficits in a national championship game. Point-by-point, Hope whittled away at the lead until Dina Disney’s three-point basket tied the score with only 13 seconds remaining to play.
St. John Fisher worked the clock for a final shot, but the Lady Cardinals were called for an offensive foul. It was Hope’s ball with five seconds left.
That’s when the miracle-of-miracles occurred. Hope’s inbound pass was intercepted by a St. John Fisher player, but just as quickly it was flicked loose by Hope junior Lissa Nienhuis. In the mad scramble for the ball Disney was fouled, but there was no time left on the clock. After several arduous minutes, the referees ruled that Disney had been fouled before the buzzer sounded.
The senior guard with the Hollywood name, tears flowing from her eyes, sank both free throws and Hope had its first nation team championship, 65-63.
Not bad for a quintet which never left that dear old town of Holland, Michigan.