by Bob San
ECM-Sun Sports Editor
Blaine High School graduate Elizabeth Hawkins and her University of St. Thomas volleyball team made history when they defeated Calvin (Mich.) College, 13-25, 17-25, 25-18, 25-16, 15-9, Nov. 24 in Holland, Mich., to win the NCAA Division III volleyball championship.
Hawkins is a 5-8 sophomore setter for the Tommies, who won their last 35 matches in a row to win the school’s first national title and also became the first team from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to win the national championship in volleyball. They finished the year 40-1.
Hawkins was a two-year starting setter for the Bengals. She earned all-conference her junior year and all-state her senior season. After graduating from high school, Hawkins joined St. Thomas’ volleyball program under the leadership of coach Thanh Pham.
So far, Hawkins has been a reserve coming off the bench. The competitor in her wants to start and play a lot but Hawkins still enjoys being on the tight-knit team.
“We are super close and we love coming to practice every day,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins also knows that by pushing the starters hard in practice, she was playing a big role in helping the team improve. She said it’s not unusual that the reserves beat the starters in 6-6 scrimmages in practice.
“Our best competition is ourselves,” Hawkins said.
Coach Pham stressed the having a strong group of reserves is key to the team’s success.
“Players like Elizabeth played pivotal roles in our championship run,” Pham said. “Like the rest of our team, they think team first and understand that they need to work hard everyday to make us the best we can be. They are reserve players that practice hard everyday as if they were starting. They also pushed the starters every day in practice, which helps us have intense practices. Like many of our starters, they too had to start as a reserve and I am confident when their number is called, they will be ready. We are fortunate to have a very deep team and with players like Elizabeth we will be competitive for years to come.”
The strong team bond and a deep roster were reasons the Tommies managed to hang together in tight matches. Nicknamed the Comeback Kids, the Tommies had several come-from-behind wins in the MIAC tournament, including the semifinal match against Carleton when they were down 4-10 in the fifth and deciding game and rallied to win. The come-from-behind win in the national championship match seemed like a fitting end to their magical season.
“To be down two sets, in that environment, and to be able to pull out the win speaks volumes about our girls and how much they wanted it,” said Pham. “This team won 40 of 41 matches this year and won the national championship but it’s not the most talented team I’ve had. I had teams with more talent but this team is stubborn and it refuses to lose. I watched some of the matches when we were down, and I said, ‘How did we win this?’ This team is gritty.”
Hawkins will wait her turn to get more playing time next fall, but whatever happens, she is enjoying her time as a Tommy.
“Our motto is having fun and work hard,” she said. “I’ve made a lot on the volleyball team. We are always hanging out. It’s like my second family.”
Bob San is the Sports Editor for the Osseo/Maple Grove Press.