The Hillsdale College men’s tennis team is returning for its third year of play, bringing a full returning roster and promising new talent for its first season in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.
The G-MAC has five teams, including Cedarville, Davis & Elkins, and two former GLIAC rivals.
“We will play Cedarville, who we beat 9-0 last year, and then the other team is Davis & Elkins, and apparently their coach just left and took some of his players with him to his new school, so they are going to be very down, as well,” head men’s tennis coach Keith Turner said. “Our main competition is definitely going to be with Walsh and Findlay.”
Walsh and Findlay switched conferences along with Hillsdale. The Chargers beat the Cavaliers 5-4 and the Oilers 6-3 last year to finish fourth in the GLIAC.
Junior Justin Hyman said that the Chargers competed well in their last GLIAC competition, and has high hopes for this season.
“We beat Wayne State, a very good regional team, in the first round,” Hyman said. “We surprised a lot of people by the way we performed, and I think we should dominate the G-MAC.”
Turner said although he had not heard of a preseason coaches’ poll, he assumes that Hillsdale will be ranked either first or second in the conference.
Although the Chargers switched conferences, their schedule isn’t significantly different from last year.
“Our team has gotten quite strong, and now that we are a regionally ranked team, we are competing for an NCAA bid,” Turner said. “We moved to a weaker conference, so therefore I’ve had to put together a very tough nonconference schedule, which basically means we are playing all the good teams in the GLIAC still, so our schedule doesn’t look a whole lot different.”
The Chargers signed two new players this season. Sophomore Nico de Enrique Schmidt is from Spain, where he ranked in the top five singles players in the Balearic Islands from 2013-16. He transferred from Southern Utah University where he played Division I tennis.
Freshman Gabe Katz is from South Burlington, Vermont, where he led his high school team to four consecutive state championships. Katz holds a career record of 83-6 in the top three singles flights and was ranked in the top 30 New England players in the 18-and-under division.
“Both guys will be fighting for positions in the lineup, and definitely make our team a lot deeper in the lineup,” Turner said.
The new players push the Charger’s roster to 10, a first for the third-year team.
“This is the first year that I’ve been here that we’ve had a team where I don’t have to worry too much about people getting hurt because we have players who can pop in and play for them,” Turner said.
The new players will join a team that finished 10th in the Midwest region last year, according to the Oracle/ITA final rankings, which has even higher goals for this season.
“Our goal is going to be to win the G-MAC and to get an NCAA bid,” Turner said. “Since there are only five teams in the G-MAC, we don’t get an automatic bid. So we really need to win our conference and then beat a couple of the top GLIAC teams we are playing out of conference… We need to at least get into the top eight in the region to get a bid.”
The young team won’t have to wait long for an opportunity to chase its season goals. Hyman said the new players will play singles matches in this weekend’s tournament to find their place on the team.
Hyman ranked as the No. 8 doubles team in the region with sophomore Charlie Adams last season, but is sitting out of this weekend’s tournament because of a broken ankle suffered in July. Hyman said he will return at full health for the regular season.
The Chargers will compete in the West Liberty Invitational on Sept. 8.
“There are eight teams there, all right around our level: Tiffin, who beat us 5-4, Fairmont State, who we beat 5-4, West Liberty, who beat us 5-4, and Bluefield State, who is a low, nasty-ranked team,” Turner said. “There are going to be a lot of good teams there, and it’s going to be a great tournament for us to get some match play in and get us ready for the big ITA tournament the following weekend.”
The Chargers will kick off nonconference play Oct. 3, and start conference play March 17 against Walsh on the road.