Sixteen players on the Hillsdale College women’s basketball team have never stepped onto the court for a single game. Despite their dedication in practice, their support from the sidelines, and their official status as NCAA athletes, these sixteen are always on the bench.
This might be because their bench is in the middle of the student section bleachers, and they happen to be men.
Though the men don’t get any action on court while the clock ticks to zero, the women’s basketball practice squad helps the team succeed every time they show up to practice for a round of drills or a five-on-five scrimmage with the ladies on the team.
“Our squad feels like a group of guys getting together to play basketball, but for something more important,” senior Luke Robson said. “Being a part of their team is super fun. It’s a cool bridge into that community I wouldn’t have been a part of otherwise.”
The practice squad helps the women train several times a week, prepping them for their upcoming games, and getting a workout themselves.
“If you can compete against these guys, you can hold your own in a game,” junior guard Maddy Reed said. “Since they’re bigger, faster, and stronger, you can’t take a play off against them. Practice seems more like a game because you have to be going 100 percent.”
Head coach Todd Mitmesser also noticed the motivation the practice squad brings to his players.
“The competitiveness gets richer when the guys are around,” he said. “That helps us develop each day both on an individual level and a team level.”
Reed said practicing against the squad also acquaints the team with their future opponents. The men study film of the competition to learn their strengths and strategies, and then bring those into action during scrimmages.
“It helps us in games, because it’s not the first time we’re seeing those plays,” Reed said. “We’re not as surprised because we’ve gone through it before.”
As the squad uses its size and strength to refine the women’s game, the unique personalities and goofy attitudes it puts into play increases the energy level when the team needs a boost, both in practice and during actual games, Mitmesser said. The men attend nearly all of the women’s home games, a presence they announce to the players with furious cheers from the sidelines.
Perhaps the best example of the squad’s shenanigans is Robson’s latest scheme, challenging the “legendary” Harlem Globetrotters to match up against his practice team. He said the event’s proceeds could even benefit a charity.
Robson called the manager of a Michigan-based Globetrotter team, but he has yet to hear back.
Whether the practice squad athletes challenge their teammates to a more precise play or a more enjoyable workout, their impact on the court is always appreciated.
“I can’t say enough good things about having them,” Reed said. “They’re like a part of the team.”