Interviews and discussions with Hope College coaches and student athletes
Stu Fritz, Baseball
Baseball has been a central part of Stu Fritz’s life as long as he can remember.
From family vacations to St. Louis Cardinals games growing up in Iowa to 28 seasons as Hope College’s baseball coach, he has loved the game.
Prior to last weekend’s season-opening doubleheader, Fritz joined the Orange and Blue Podcast to discuss his baseball roots and the unique 2021 baseball season for the Flying Dutchmen.
Head baseball coach and associate professor of kinesiology Stu Fritz
Fritz and his team returned to competition this spring after the 2020 season was canceled after three games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would say that baseball players and coaches, by our nature, have to be resilient with rainouts and makeups, especially playing here in the Great Lakes region. We’re used to having things postponed or canceled, but never quite to that magnitude,” Fritz said. “I will tip my hat to our guys. They handled it extremely well. It was disappointing for our coaching staff to truly have a season taken away.
“If there is a silver lining, it’s that everybody else was in the same boat. We didn’t have anything else we could do, so we took it in stride. We’re ready to get back out and get going.”
2021 Season Preview
The 2021 baseball season is full of promise for the Flying Dutchmen. They won a school-record 31 games in their last full season in 2019. They were picked to be a contender for an MIAA title this spring; finishing second in the league’s preseason coaches poll.
Fritz, who started playing baseball as a child in Iowa, is grateful for all of the opportunities the game has given him. He has traveled to Switzerland to take part in coaching clinics. He has served as president of the American Baseball Coaches Association.
And, he’s made a career coaching the sport itself at Hope College — a path that started because of a chance meeting with retired Hope College men’s basketball Glenn Van Wieren at St. Olaf College (Minnesota) 30 years ago.
“I firmly believe that our creator puts us in spots and gives us opportunities,” Fritz said.
When he’s not at the baseball field, Fritz works to mold the educators of tomorrow. He recently became tenured as an associate professor of kinesiology at Hope. As part of his role, he helps assess student physical education teachers.
“I enjoy being out in the field,” Fritz said. “I think it helps me stay current to see our students in a different way: in the classroom versus always on the court, on the track, in the pool, or on the field. It’s something near and dear to my heart.”
Mary VandeHoef, Softball
Head coach Mary VandeHoef is eager to lead her Hope College softball team on the field again.
After 364 days since their last games, she is poised to get the chance to compete with the Flying Dutch this weekend. Hope opens the 2021 season with a non-league doubleheader at Hanover College (Indiana) on Saturday, March 6.
Earlier this month, VandeHoef joined the Hope Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast to discuss how she and her team managed the past year that's been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mary VandeHoef, Hope College softball coach and Dow Center Director
VandeHoef expressed pride in how everyone on the team — from student-athletes, coaches, and support staff — banded together to assist each other during a trying time.
"In my lifetime I've never seen something like that get taken away," VandeHoef said. "To have it happen when you're playing is really hard. We wanted to acknowledge that but also be moving forward and pressing on. We really were able to make the most of our fall season.
"I’m really grateful we were able to get a chance to do so. Now, we're just getting better every day and itching to get out there and play and compete. I cannot wait to compete with this team — just get after it and enjoy it."
'Staying connected' through softball
This is VandeHoef's 11th season as head softball coach. It will be a unique one.
Understandably, there has been more on her student-athletes' hearts and minds the past year as everyone has adjusted to online classes, new safety protocols and limited social contact.
There will be no spring break trip to Florida this year, so VandeHoef has been creative to bolster the team camaraderie that often has been elevated during the annual excursion down south. Also, there are more games against MIAA opponents to fill out a 40-game schedule.
"There definitely have been aspects that are tough," VandeHoef said. "We talk about being a five-minute friend, being that friend and teammate who is there for each other when you need it, to talk, facetime, or text. I think they really did a good job of staying connected in their own way. We're certainly connected as a team."
The Flying Dutch is expected to be a contender for an MIAA title this spring. Hope finished third in the 2021 MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll.
Dow Center Director
In addition to coaching softball, VandeHoef serves as the Dow Center director on campus.
The facility is the student recreation and intramural center, holds space for academic classes and is the home of the college's dance department, and is a fitness area for faculty, staff, and community members. The Dow Center also periodically is a practice facility for Hope's varsity teams.
It is a role that VandeHoef relishes since she enjoyed numerous broad-based activities as a student-athlete at her alma mater, Central College (Iowa).
"The Dow is so important to our campus," VandeHoef said. "Having a place to recreate and have some fun and be with your friends is important. There are a lot of aspects of campus life that happen at the Dow that are fun to be facilitating. It’s a great position to know more of the Hope community and what makes this place special."
Written transcript of Mary VandeHoef's interview
Michael Schanhals, Men's Lacrosse
All these years later, Michael Schanhals '91, Hope College's men's lacrosse coach, still shakes his head about how his coaching career began.
He recalls visiting a friend in his old dorm room at Hope College when a call for him there. He answered the phone — which hung on a wall, not in his hand.
Men's lacrosse head coach Michael Schanhals
"I thought, 'That's weird?' It's a total coincidence that I was even in the vicinity," Schanhals said on the Hope Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast. "It was Rick Morris from East Grand Rapids, and they want to interview me for a coaching job. I got the job as head boys lacrosse coach at East Grand Rapids, absolutely loved coaching there."
Schanhals became smitten with coaching and made it a life-long passion. Since 2005, he has led the Flying Dutchmen lacrosse club he played for and oversaw its transition into a varsity program.
Hope is scheduled to begin its ninth varsity season on Wednesday, March 3 with a 5 p.m. home game against Aurora University (Illinois).
Building a Winning Program
Schanhals has built the Flying Dutchmen into a successful program. Hope is pursuing its third consecutive MIAA regular-season championship this spring.
The Flying Dutchmen won regular-season league titles in 2018 and 2019 and made their first NCAA Division III Tournament appearance in 2019 after winning the MIAA Tournament.
Hope started the 2020 season 3-0 before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the remainder of the season. Schanhals guided the Flying Dutchmen through workouts last fall.
"Our fall work was really productive. Now, obviously, the next step is to test that against some other competition, too," Schanhals said. "We're really lucky to have a very talented and deep group of young players. We feel like we're ready for games, but we also know that, once the games are on our growth and learning opportunities are just going to accelerate that much more. We're really excited about that."
In addition to coaching, Schanhals is a high school English teacher for North Muskegon Public Schools. He also coaches eighth-grade basketball there.
"The dead period for the NCAA is November and December from the end of fall ball to when we start back up," Schanhals said. "I just can't help it. I just really love the interaction, I think I learned so much from playing sports and just love it.
"To be able to share that, then also create a relationship with people so that you can be pushed intellectually at the same time, is everything I've ever wanted to do professionally. I'm so grateful that I have this opportunity for sure."
A written transcript of the Orange and Blue Podcast
Keagan Pontious, Women's Lacrosse
For years, Keagan Pontious picked up a lacrosse stick and instinctively knew exactly what to do — at an elite level, too.
Now, as coach of the Hope College women’s lacrosse team, the former NCAA Division II All-American is embracing the new challenge of sharing her wisdom with her student-athletes.
Keagan Pontious, head women's lacrosse coach and equipment manager.
“That’s been the hardest part actually,” Pontious said on the Hope Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast. “The reason is that the stuff that came naturally to me — I am left-handed and took the draw in college — has been harder for me to coach. It took me a long time to figure out how to teach (the women) how to take a draw properly.
“I loved studying (lacrosse) as a player, where it could be one little thing that makes the difference. The great thing now as a coach is I watch (the team) and it might be changing one piece of their games that allows them to open a whole different level of play.”
Pontious is in her second season leading the Flying Dutch. Their first game is scheduled for Tuesday, February 24 against Calvin University at 4 p.m. at Van Andel Soccer Stadium.
Her first season was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hope played four matches, winning the final two — before the remainder of the season was canceled.
The Flying Dutch enter this season as the preseason favorite in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Hope topped a close MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll with 42 points and two first-place votes.
On the Orange and Blue Podcast, Pontious discusses how she has managed the pandemic with her team and how they remained focused on finding blessings amid all the challenges they face.
Pontious is not far removed from her playing days. Two years ago, she scored 58 goals en route to helping Seton Hill (Pennsylvania) advance to the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time. She was selected to the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association’s All-America Third Team.
Pontious earned both her master’s of business administration and her bachelor’s of business administration degrees at Seton Hill. In addition to coaching, Pontious serves all of Hope’s student-athletes as the college’s equipment manager, a role she started in December.
Bob Cawood, Tennis Coach
Bob Cawood '13 relishes the repetitive sound of a tennis ball being launched into play and then returned. He's missing hearing it in a competitive setting at Hope College.
Cawood is optimistic that will change this weekend when his Hope College men's and women's tennis teams are scheduled to begin the 2021 season with a pair of home matches. It has been nearly a year since either the Flying Dutchmen or the Flying Dutch had matches because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cawood's fourth season as head coach at his alma mater has been a unique one with a delayed start and modified training routines. He talks about this season's preparations on the Hope Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast.
Head men's and women's tennis coach Bob Cawood
A long wait ends for both Hope teams on Friday, February 12 with a 5 p.m. match against Cornerstone University at DeWitt Tennis Center. The Flying Dutchmen and Flying Dutch follow on Saturday, February 13 with a 3 p.m. match against Davenport University.
"We have continually stressed, even at practice in the fall, what a privilege it is to play this sport," Cawood said. "Thankfully, our sport is probably one of the more socially distant sports, and so it honestly has not changed a whole lot in terms of the way I coach. The only difference is the way that we have cleaned up and the way that we have to pick up the balls. I try to limit the number of balls that we use in a practice as well.
"Where there used to be high fives, now it's racquet taps. We have a physical touch that still is socially distant."
Giving Back to the Game
Despite the challenges, Cawood has been determined to continue to give back to the game, one he holds dear, through his work as head coach at Hope as well as a tennis pro for the DeWitt Tennis Center.
During his collegiate playing days at Hope, Cawood's 104 combined wins in singles and doubles play rank him third among Flying Dutchmen players. He also was the 2012 recipient of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Allen B. Stowe Sportsmanship Award.
Since he had one season of NCAA eligibility left after graduating from Hope, Cawood also played NCAA Division I tennis at the University of Detroit Mercy while taking graduate school classes. At UDM, he was named team captain and team MVP for the Titans.
Now as a coach, Cawood aims to be the kind of role model he's had during his playing and coaching career.
"This is my way of giving back, I always say, because I definitely appreciated my coach here at Hope, Steve Gorno. He's a role model still for me. He's been a mentor. He's an amazing human being. He taught me a lot of things that I have not been able to read in a textbook. For me to be able to have a philosophy from him, a philosophy from playing D-I for a year, having (assistant coach) Nate Price, having all these different people in my life to be able to put me in this moment, it's my opportunity to give back to these young men.
"I cannot stress how much I appreciated my coach here who shaped me to be the person I am, helped with that. That's exactly what my hope is to be able to do for the players on the men's and women's teams."
Written transcript of Bob Cawood interview
Football, Peter Stuursma and Joey Stark
Hope College football coach Peter Stuursma and senior quarterback Joey Stark discuss on the Orange and Blue Hope Athletics Podcast this week's decision that the program will focus on preparing for the Fall 2021 season and will not participate in MIAA league play this spring.
Ray and Sue Smith Stadium
The Flying Dutchmen instead will follow a phased-in offseason training program this spring that includes strength and conditioning work, four to five weeks of practice, and the potential for scrimmages.
The Flying Dutchmen will kick off the 2021 fall season on Saturday, Sept. 4. Hope hosts Anderson University at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium.
2021 fall schedule
Focusing on the Fall 2021 season, Stuursma said, is driven by having in mind the best interests of Hope's football student-athletes, the program, and the institution of Hope.
College announcement of the football decision