BallinMichigan‘s ‘Rivals’ series will look at the components that make some of the state’s best high school and college basketball rivalries so great. Feel free to leave your own favorite moments from this rivalry in the comments. Interested in writing a guest post about your favorite rivalry? Contact patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com for details.
By Matt Snyder
Michigan-Ohio State, North Carolina-Duke, Yankees-Red Sox. These are perhaps the three most discussed and beloved rivalries in American sports today (and for good reason). They share four common threads that make all rivalries great: proximity, atmosphere, history and intensity. They all play tightly contested games in front of raucous crowds, and the outcomes play a critical role in the race for a league or division championship.
The same is true in West Michigan where Calvin and Hope meet on the court in what has become not only one of the greatest basketball rivalries in the state, not just the best in Division III, but one of the greatest rivalries (of any sport at any level) in the country. That statement probably sounds a great deal like hyperbole (and it probably is to an extent, I’m in far too deep to know for sure), but there’s good reason that the Calvin-Hope rivalry has been branded as “THE” Rivalry.
It’s difficult to name a heated rivalry that isn’t at least regional in nature – perhaps Lakers-Celtics qualifies as such, or maybe Notre Dame-USC if you’re feeling generous – oftentimes it’s the mixing of the fan bases that fuels the flames (I can’t help but feel that my Michigan license plate turns into a bulls eye if I drive too far south on I-75 or US-23).
Holland (Hope) and Grand Rapids (Calvin) are separated by 30 miles along I-196. It’s nearly impossible to do much of anything around West Michigan without seeing a Hope t-shirt here, or a Calvin bumper sticker there. But more than just casually witnessing strangers don the wrong colors, or meeting someone new at church (“oh you went to Hope? I went to Calvin.”), families sometimes mix as well (though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it). For example: Carrie Snikkers was the 2010 Division III National Player of the Year as a member of Hope’s women’s basketball team. Tom Snikkers, her younger brother, has been Calvin’s leading scorer each of the last two seasons.
It’s been said by many that the Calvin-Hope rivalry is a brotherly rivalry – and that’s certainly true in many respects (you’re awarded a minor in Dutch language if you can pronounce half the surnames of students and faculty of either school) – but is there anyone in the world that can get under your skin like a sibling? Sure, Calvin and Hope put up a respectful front and act cordial to each other in the public eye, but there’s no one they’d like to kick the snot out of more than each other.
It’s unfortunate that small-college basketball gets so little coverage, but I understand that it comes with the territory. Division III basketball is so often played in 1,000 seat gyms that are less than half-full, but Calvin and Hope are both different in that regard. The three meetings between these schools in 2012 – two regular season matchups and a conference tournament game – drew more than 12,000 fans (capacity crowds of 3,675 for two games at Hope’s DeVos Fieldhouse and 4,800 at Calvin’s Van Noord Arena). Those types of numbers are unheard of in Division III, and even difficult to match by many schools in the NCAA’s “higher” divisions.
But just because Hope and Calvin’s home arenas are capped at 3,675 and 4,800 respectively doesn’t mean that’s the maximum crowd the matchup could draw. The 1997 season saw a Rivalry game scheduled at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena, and more than 11,000 showed up to witness the event, setting a Division III attendance record in the process (one that won’t be broken until these two schools schedule a game at an even larger venue).
History and Intensity
Saying that Calvin-Hope games play a big role in determining the MIAA basketball champion would be an understatement. The two teams have thoroughly dominated conference play for the better part of three decades (and have been the big dogs in the league for much longer than that).
MIAA championships since 1980 (33 seasons):
Rest of league: 0
*2005 was the only year since 1980 in which neither Calvin nor Hope managed to claim at least a share of the championship.
MIAA championships since 1953 (the year Calvin joined the MIAA, 60 seasons):
Hillsdale / Defiance / Trine: 0**
**Hillsdale participated in the MIAA until 1961, Defiance (Ohio) participated from 1997-2000, and Trine (Indiana), an active member, joined the league in 2004.
It’s hard to sum up the dominance of these two schools any better than that. When the conference season begins, Calvin and Hope typically battle it out for the top spot, and everyone else is left to fight for third place. It’s definitely a rare year if the rivalry matchups don’t have obvious championship implications.
Each game between these two foes means something big, and each possession feels exactly that way from the arena. The crowd hangs on every shot and every rebound like a championship depended on it (which it probably does).
2012 Players to Watch
Colton Overway, Hope: The senior-to-be point guard will step into the starting lineup with the impossible task of replicating the performance of the now-graduated David Krombeen who took home second team All-America honors a season ago. Overway’s strength comes in the assist and ball control departments (he’ll be near the top of the league in assist-to-turnover ratio), but he will have to stretch himself a bit if he hopes to average double-digits in scoring.
Nate Snuggerud, Hope: Snuggerud scored more points than any other MIAA player last year (518) and had the highest scoring average during league play, but he surprisingly didn’t get much consideration for the league MVP crown. Hope will need an encore performance out of the senior forward; he’s the only returning player that averaged double figures in scoring last season. He possesses a great nose for the basket and a there’s healthy amount of grit in his game, but he has also demonstrated the ability to step out and knock down an open 3-pointer.
Nate VanArendonk, Hope: The big 6-foot-10, 255 pound transfer from Central Michigan got off to a slow start last year as he adjusted to his first real season of college ball. He has the body to turn into a dominant force against Division III, but he seemed to find himself in foul trouble far too often. He’s nearly impossible to contend with while on the floor (you probably saw this video of him as a high schooler), so he needs to keep himself off the bench.
Tom Snikkers, Calvin: Snikkers has been Calvin’s leading scorer for two seasons now, but his scoring efficiency took a big hit last year. Injuries robbed Calvin of two of their top-tier scoring threats a season ago, so Snikkers was forced into carrying a heavy load. I fully expect him to lead the team in scoring again, but he will need to be more discerning with his shot selection. He’s a little bit undersized for a forward, but he finished the year as the MIAA’s second leading rebounder.
Tyler Kruis, Calvin: Calvin’s 6-foot-9 big man had a breakout season last year. He mostly abandoned his mid-range and longer game and focused on playing down on the block. The result was a top-10 finish in league shooting percentage and a double-digit scoring average. He was slowed by a knee injury midway through the year, but pushed through it to have a nice year. He’ll be a junior this upcoming season, so he still has plenty of room and opportunity for growth.
Jordan Brink, Calvin: Brink will return to the team after missing all of the 2011-12 season due to injury. He will retain his sophomore eligibility and look to build on a freshman season that saw him shoot 46 percent from the 3-point line and a school record 92.9 percent from the free throw line. Brink will add the consistent long-range scoring threat that the Knights sorely missed last season. His re-addition could help stretch the floor to open up space for guys like Kruis and Snikkers.
Matt Snyder is the creator and editor of Forever Faithful, a blog dedicated to Calvin Knights basketball. He can also be found online as the editor of The Tigers Den and as a contributor to SideLion Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @snyder_matthew.