Although members of the practice squad never touch the court on game days, they make their presence known by being the most spirited, and often loudest, fans in the student section. (Photo: Luke Robson / Courtesy)

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.”