Hope wins: Leaning on God and one another, Hope College earns national championship

The undefeated Hope College women’s team seemed well on its way to Division III basketball championships the past two years, before the COVID-19 pandemic cut those seasons short.

This year,…

The undefeated Hope College women’s team seemed well on its way to Division III basketball championships the past two years, before the COVID-19 pandemic cut those seasons short.

This year, absolutely nothing got in its way.

After abbreviated seasons of 29-0 in 2019-20 and 16-0 last year, the amazing team from the Christian college in Holland, Michigan went 32-1 to win the NCAA Division III title this year. Hope won the championship game 71-58 over Wisconsin-Whitewater March 19.

A worthy opponent, Whitewater has been in the Final Four four times since 2008 and to the NCAA tournament 20 times, losing in the 2013 title game as well.

Hope has an impressive pedigree of its own, having also won national titles in 1990 and 2006, and finishing second in 2010. This is Coach Brian Morehouse’s second national championship. A graduate of Hope, he is the fastest college coach to reach 600 wins in either men’s or women’s basketball, and has a 566-74 record over 21 years at the Hope helm.

Morehouse felt like the past two shortened seasons had all the makings of a national championship, but Hope never had the opportunity to compete for it. That nagging feeling drove Morehouse and his team this season. The team’s lone loss was to Trine University, a team Hope subsequently beat twice, including a 57-52 win in the national semifinal.

“This team had to just keep bouncing back,” Morehouse told Sports Spectrum. “Time after time they were met with a roadblock, and instead of quitting, they kept going despite the exhaustion the bad news created.”

Hope tore off an incredible 61 straight wins through the pandemic-shortened seasons and into the middle of this season. That streak began after the worst loss of Morehouse’s career at Hope, a game the Flying Dutch lost by 30 to Wartburg College (Waverly, Iowa) in the NCAA Tournament.

Hope went nearly 800 days without losing another game.

The streak didn’t come as a result of just trying harder, but rather because of a heart-to-heart meeting with players, coaches and staff in which they resolved to get rid of some of the toxic habits that had crept into the team’s culture. 

Morehouse said of the meeting, “It was a very hard discussion, but we walked out of that room, I think, with a group of players and coaches that were intent on being very intentional about communication, relationships and work ethic.”

A big part of the culture is faith in Jesus Christ. Several of the team’s players are involved in a players-only Bible study, while many also walk out their faith through service projects and missions. They host camps, deliver water filtration devices in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Sudan, and heavily invest in charities in an effort to help others. 

On its website, Hope College describes itself as a place “where academic excellence and vibrant Christian faith join together in a supportive and welcoming community.”

Morehouse says the team manifests that goal through service and “the power of the circle.”

“Our circle is really what we believe in. The reason we are in a circle all the time is because there’s no one person who is more important than another. Nobody is in the front of the line. I’m no more important than our student-assistant coach, than our athletic trainer, than our strength coach, than our best All-Americans. So, our strength is in our circle, and it’s leaning on the person to your left and right.”

Saturday’s victory secured the third national championship in program history. Though the win is still fresh in his memory, Morehouse still emphasized depending on God and His faith through the whole process. 

“I think faith comes in many different forms with a basketball team in our situation,” Morehouse said, “but I think we gain comfort in knowing that God is in control and that He will give us enough no matter what the circumstances.”