Although Hillsdale College moved from the GLIAC to the G-MAC in July, women’s tennis is starting the year matched against its former opponents.
Facing the largest adjustment of Hillsdale’s 14 varsity programs, women’s tennis will compete in conference play in the spring instead of the fall, due to Great Midwest Athletic Conference’s schedule. The team, however, is looking to take advantage of the five extra months it has before competing in season by participating in nonconference competitions.
“The whole purpose of our fall season is to get a lot of match play in and figure out what we need to work on for the spring season,” head coach Nikki Walbright said. “It’s been a really big disadvantage in years past that we come back and had to just immediately go into some really high-pressure, competitive match plays, because our matches at the beginning of the year really affected us for our conference season. Now we’ll be able to get some matches under our belt, figure out things we need to work on, and build our confidence and tolerance for match play.”
That starts at home on Saturday when the Chargers play the Michigan Tech Huskies at 10 a.m., and it continues on Sunday against the Saginaw Valley State Cardinals at noon.
Last conference season, Hillsdale, which finished at No. 7 of eight in the GLIAC tournament, went 1-1 against Michigan Tech and 2-0 against Saginaw Valley in close matches.
“They’re really tight with us,” Walbright said. “I think they’re the same level as us, so it can honestly go either way.”
The two GLIAC teams, however, are competing in the midst of their conference season. Unable to start practices until Labor Day because of the move to the spring season, Hillsdale had its first practice of the academic year on Monday.
“It is kind of like a get in, and hit, and do your best kind of situation,” Walbright said.
Athletes, however, said they are using their three practices before the matches to the max, and they described Monday’s workout as the hardest they have ever had.
“The goal for the season is that we are going to not give away easy points, we are going to fix our serves, and we are going to be in better condition and better shape than every single other team in the G-MAC,” freshman Casey Kibler said. “If we’re in better shape than everyone else, it doesn’t matter skill-wise, because we can outlast them.”
The women also are using the time to bond as a team. In addition to holding their own group hits, they have met for meals and hung out together, especially with their freshman teammates: Hannah Cimpeanu, Elli Formentin, and Kibler.
“I think the freshmen still know us as much as previous freshmen do, because we’ve reached out to them and made those efforts,” junior Corinne Prost said. “Feeling like you’re going to have girls who understand you, who know your strengths and weaknesses on and off the court, is very important. I think girls thrive in that kind of environment.”
On the court, Walbright said the freshmen add depth to the young team’s lineup and are new challenges against whom the older athletes can compete, something women’s tennis will do frequently come spring.
“I think we’ll do even better this year, because we have that whole semester to get to know each other and practice,” Prost said.