Who currently has the longest active winning streak in women’s college basketball? These aren’t the No. 1-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. Nor are they traditional powerhouses like Baylor, Stanford or UConn.
You may not have heard of this school unless you live near the area or know of its famous rivalry with Calvin University. Hope College, a small Christian institution just a few miles off the coast of Lake Michigan, hasn’t lost a game in nearly three years – 57 straight wins, many without breaking a sweat. This is the longest active winning streak at any level in NCAA basketball, men’s or women’s.
This consistent level of success seemed unfathomable just a few years ago given that the program was a bit down.
After a national championship in 2006, playoff disappointments were mounting for the program. While its stranglehold on the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) hadn’t changed in over two decades, the Flying Dutch would seemingly hit a wall when it came to March Madness – defeats in the Sweet 16 or even at the start of the tournament. . for most of the 2010s were common.
Fast forward to the 2019 NCAA Division III Tournament. The Flying Dutch were smoked by Wartburg in the second round, 79–49. Embarrassing for a program of this caliber? Yes. But maybe the wake-up call this team needed, according to coach Brian Morehouse.
“It was one of the biggest margins of victory I’ve lost in my career, which has spanned over 20 years,” admits Morehouse. “It was difficult. The fact that it was a very visible defeat in the national tournament, [even though] it was against a very good team, it was just not the goal of our program.
And yes, there’s not much shame in losing in the NCAA Tournament considering Hope has compiled one of the most impressive resumes in college basketball. Since 2006, the Flying Dutch have been to the Big Dance on several occasions (2012). During this period, they reached the Final Four twice, the last time in 2010, and even won their second national championship in 2006.
While there is undoubtedly a winning culture in Holland, Michigan, there may also have been a bit of stagnation that has gone along with it.
“On the way back from [Wartburg] game, we had to have some tough conversations as coaches,” says Morehouse. “I don’t think our program was broken, but I think we became more intentional about some things that maybe we let slip because we won a lot.”
According to Morehouse, this culture change was a player-led movement with guidance from the coaching staff. While Morehouse and the coaching staff have pushed for improved player relationships and better training habits, the players themselves have taken additional initiatives during the offseason, hosting open gyms in summer, by helping the incoming recruit to acclimatize and, above all, by creating team building activities. which brought the group together.
Hope College is a private Christian college, so faith is central to the lives of many players and coaches. During the offseason prior to the 2019-20 season, the current senior class (sophomores at the time) held Bible study sessions where players took turns reading scriptures from the Bible, participating in prayer sessions and talked about everything that was going on in their lives.
The impact has been enormous. It caused a team that wasn’t necessarily the closest to the pitch to become a fraternity. Two of Hope’s current All-Americans — guard Kenedy Schoonveld and forward/center Olivia Voskuil — took full advantage.
“So this summer and fall, we got together maybe once a week and dove into the words together,” Voskuil says. “And I think it was really powerful just to be together at that time and also not having the coaches there and being able to bond that way with our teammates.”
Through these Bible studies, the personal bond that developed between the team was even stronger than usual.
“What’s really cool is that it was a player-driven thing and it was all optional, so anyone could come,” Schoonveld said. “It really gave us the opportunity to grow together in our faith, but also to be a little vulnerable and to share prayer requests and to let us know what’s going on in our lives outside of basketball and outside of school.”
With their offseason centered around a renewed interest in Christianity as well as their relationship with each other, Hope College has had an unprecedented run.
They finished the 2019-20 regular season with a 27-0 record and were heavy favorites to win the national championship heading into the D-III NCAA Tournament before the COVID-19 pandemic ended their season just before the Sweet 16. They followed that up with another 16-0 record in an abbreviated 2020-21 season, quickly traversing their MIAA schedule for the program’s 16th conference title.
“When we were closed just before playing our Sweet 16 game [in 2020], it was very hard for us, all of a sudden we had to go home and there was no closure,” says Schoonveld. “And then last year they canceled the tournament well in advance, which was still really tough, but I felt like we could still wrap it up with our conference tournament win.”
The Flying Dutch have shown no signs of winner fatigue this season, going 12-0 midway through the season. With more than two undefeated seasons, one could argue that Hope College could have won back-to-back national championships had the pandemic never happened. But overthinking a “what if” is something Morehouse is trying to steer this team away from.
“I think it’s dangerous to try to play this year to validate our team [success] last year and the year before,” says Morehouse. “I think this team works, you know, like this year’s team, not like two years ago, and we have different people. I think the hardest thing about two years ago and the “Last year was, as Kenedy said, the lack of the possibility of closing. We’re not arrogant enough to think we would have won. You know, we don’t sit there and say, well, we definitely would have won, you know, two years ago or we would have won last year. These seasons stand on their own.
On the pitch, the most impressive thing about this team is their depth on the pitch. While Schoonveld and Voskuil are considered the Flying Dutch’s best players and team leaders, Hope has six players averaging eight or more points. Even their playing time is spread out – with 10 of their players averaging no less than 15 minutes and no one averaging more than 17 per game.
Voskuil, who was named an All-American in 2020 and 21, is their leading scorer with 11 points per game. Schoonveld is close behind his fellow senior with 10. With the program trying to build into the future and grow its five-player freshman class, Morehouse praised both stars for their selflessness.
“They could both complain about how many shots or how much playing time they get, but we don’t play for the stats so people can get the whole conference or the whole of America,” Morehouse said. “I refuse to do this. It cheats the game of basketball when you do that stuff. “They can both average 20 points and 12 rebounds per game with tons of assists. But they have generously given up some of their playing time so that young players can grow and stay put.
It’s a major sign of growth for Schoonveld and Voskuil, who entered the program as quiet, reserved players who were known for their work ethic but weren’t necessarily ready for a leadership role. enough again. Now, both have become the de facto leaders of the top Division III team in the country. These are players who perfectly personify the culture that Morehouse has built, a philosophy that emphasizes playing within the “circle” of the program.
“People ask me all the time what it’s like to handle your fifth years [players]says Morehouse. “I’m like, managing my fifth year? They are amazing. I try to get them to have a bit more swagger and accept being the best, but they’re incredibly humble. They have always been talented players who have improved every year, corn I think the hardest part is growing as a leader and knowing how you can impact the people around you. And to me what’s amazing is just the footprint they’ll leave behind [and] the influence they have had on others in our program.
And with the hype growing, all eyes are on Holland, Michigan, as the program receives more and more attention with each victory. And they embrace it, but staying focused on the little things at the same time.
“We don’t want to avoid it. We don’t want to run away from it, but we don’t want it to become debilitating because of the pressure it puts on us,” Morehouse says. “And so we are going to accept the fact that we are playing very well [right now]. But that’s not our focal point. When we get into games, our only thought really is daily improvement. It goes well with what we believe most in our basketball program, a win it all mindset.
More college basketball coverage:
• Your guide to catching up to the College Hoops season
• Miami is the talk of the ACC
• Nicki Collen goes her own way at Baylor