By Kaleb Essink
For elite girls volleyball players in West Michigan, Calvin College has always been the dominant program by which all others are measured.
And, with Hamilton senior setter Alyssa Lester’s commitment to play at Calvin, the Knights will soon add a Hawkeye to their talented roster.
Playing for Calvin was always a dream for Lester.
“I was contacted by Albion In the recruiting process, but there really was no decision,” she said. “Calvin has been the dream school for me, and when your dream school lets you know that you can make it with them? I already had my mind made up really early in the process.”
Led by head coach Amber Warners, Calvin along with rival Hope College, have created a duopoly at the top of the MIAA volleyball conference. The Knights captured national championships in 2010, 2013 and 2016.
“(Alyssa) is a gifted athlete who cares more about others and wants more than just a volleyball experience,” Warners said. “We have incredible team culture where we truly put the team and others first. We build strong friendships that will last for the rest of their lives.”
Lester said that culture factored heavily in her decision.
“I can go to (my teammates) with anything and they will answer me and support me,” she said.
Lester’s Hawkeyes currently sit in a three-way tie for first place in the O-K Green conference with Zeeland West and Byron Center. Lester said despite lofty state tournament expectations, winning the conference has been one of the team’s biggest goals for the season.
Hamilton coach James Mikolajczyk credited Lester’s performance in getting his team into contention for a conference championship, a goal not yet obtained during his tenure at the helm.
“She has great court awareness and she does a phenomenal job communicating on the floor with her teammates,” Mikolajczyk said. “I love watching her anticipate things. She makes plays that look insane, but as you watch it back on film you can see her moving early as she reads the play.
“She makes those around her so much better during practice and matches and she is actively elevating the level of play in the program,” he added.
That competitiveness has Warner very excited about her newest recruit.
“The combination of the type of teammate Alyssa is and her volleyball skills/athleticism is a perfect fit for our program.” Warners said. “We play at a high level, but we have players who are unselfish, care about one another and don’t have egos.”
Although excited for her volleyball career to continue at Calvin, Lester doesn’t downplay the importance of her final days as a Hawkeye.
“We have to stay focused,” she said. “We want to win.”