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(Photo: Courtesy / Hillsdale Collegian)

The first two conference games of the season yielded mixed results for the Hillsdale College Chargers. On Nov. 30, the team dropped its G-MAC opener on the road against Trevecca Nazarene University, 68-57. Two days later, Hillsdale traveled to Owensboro, Kentucky, and defeated Kentucky Wesleyan College, 64-56.

Through six games, the Chargers are 1-1 in what should be a tightly contested conference, and they are 3-3 overall.

“These first six games have given us a really neat barometer for where we need to go and some things we need to work on,” head coach Matt Fritsche said. “We’re actively doing those things and those kids are really attentive to those things. I’m happy with our attitude. I’m happy with our effort. I love coaching this team, but I want to win more.”

Fritsche’s first season at the helm in Hillsdale has brought a strategic overhaul to the team’s approach on the court.

Junior guard Allie Dewire described the new system as focused more toward the action away from the ball.

“Last year, we were more of a ‘ball’ team. We would set screens, and it was more focused on who had the ball,”  Dewire said. “This year, it’s more focused on off-ball, so moving without the ball, setting screens from people away from the ball. That’s been an adjustment, and I think we’ve responded pretty well.”

Against Trevecca Nazarene, Hillsdale got off to a slow start shooting and dug itself a 37-23 hole by halftime. Second-half improvements made the game more competitive, but the Chargers were never able to narrow the deficit to closer than six points.

“We got down a little bit, and all of the times we were down, we could have made it up,” Fritsche said. “But we got a little rushed and a little anxious with our plays, which led to some turnovers, which just kind of snowballed on us.”

The Chargers out-rebounded Trevecca Nazarene 49-27, but the size mismatch alone wasn’t enough to swing the advantage toward Hillsdale. The Chargers shot just 35 percent from the floor and suffered 22 turnovers.

“We did well on the boards, but it was just other things like the turnovers and not playing our style of game that really took over,” junior forward Brittany Gray said. “Rebounds can only help you so much. It’s all the little things that, when you add them up, helps you win or lose.”

Junior forward Makenna Ott was on the floor for all but two minutes, and led Hillsdale with 20 points. Ott’s 15.2 points per game lead the Chargers this season.

Senior center Allie Dittmer grabbed 13 rebounds, and leads the team in rebounding this season. Her 10.8 rebounds per game are second-most in the G-MAC.

“We just crash the boards really hard on the offensive end,” Dittmer said. “Some teams aren’t expecting that. On the defensive end, we just put a focus on everybody hitting a body. Getting a box out, and every person hitting their own player.”

Controlling the boards has been a strength for Hillsdale, as the team boasts a plus-ten rebounding margin through six contests.

Dewire added nine rebounds, nine points, and dished out six assists.

“We’re just trying to move the ball a lot, get a lot of touches inside and outside the paint, picking the right shots to shoot, and not dribbling so much, but dribbling when it’s appropriate,” Dewire said. “Just making the right plays more, and not trying to force plays.”

The Chargers turned their fortunes on Saturday against Kentucky Wesleyan. Hillsdale built a 25-point lead toward the end of the first half, and led 37-18 at halftime.

“I thought the first half was as good as we played all year,” Fritsche said. “The fourth quarter was good too. We guarded really well in the fourth quarter. We didn’t make as many shots, but we took good shots.”

The Chargers shot 7 of 19 from three-point range, and made 13 of 16 free throw attempts. Hillsdale ranks third in the conference with a 38.6 three-point shooting percentage.

“When we slow down and play our style, our chemistry is great,” Gray said. “We have extra passes, we get wide open shots, and we’re all just having fun.”

Ott again led the way with 14 points, followed by Gray with 13. Dittmer, Dewire, and senior guard Maddy Reed each added nine points.

Freshman guard Jaycie Burger came off the bench to contribute six points against Trevecca Nazarene and five points against Kentucky Wesleyan.

“We started the season with some really tough games and we didn’t get to play as deep into our bench as we wanted. But what they’ve done, we’ve been impressed with,” Fritsche said of the bench’s contributions. “To not play a ton, but to stay as engaged as they have is admirable. Those things are not easy to do.”

Hillsdale again turned the ball over 22 times, but limited the damage, as Kentucky Wesleyan scored just 13 points off turnovers. Still, Fritsche said the team needs to improve in terms of taking care of the basketball.

“We’re turning the ball over way too much,” Fritsche said. “It’s something that we just need to emphasize more in practice and do a better job of teaching it as well.”

Gray said opponents’ full-court press has been a challenge to overcome, but something the team will continue to work on and improve.

“That is one area where we really need some improvement,” Gray said. “Our coaches have addressed that right away. We’ve been really focusing on that. We’ve had our practice players come in and be really aggressive on our press attacks so we learn how to break it.”

Hillsdale has averaged more than 70 points per game to begin the season. Fritsche said his offense thrives when it adopts an unselfish mindset.

“We want to make sure the ball moves and that we don’t over-dribble,” Fritsche said. “We’re a motion-centric team, so our plays aren’t all necessarily scripted. I want our kids to make good plays and good reads and good decisions, and make plays for each other. If we’re doing those things, we’re really hard to guard.”

After six road games to begin its schedule, Hillsdale opens a five-game homestand this week. Malone University (2-2, 1-1 G-MAC) visits Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena this Thursday for the Chargers’ home opener. Tip off is at 5:30 p.m.

“It’ll be a very good homecoming,” Dewire said. “Six games on the road is tough with all the traveling and not being on your own court. We’re excited to get people out there to the game, get our own fans cheering. We’ve all been looking forward to this game.”

Hillsdale won’t have to travel for another road game again until Dec. 30.

“The best thing about our schedule is we have finals week at home,” Fritsche said. “We’re not Wayne State, so finals week means something here.”