The last time the Hillsdale College Chargers scored 103 points, head coach Matt Fritsche mentioned how important it was that all his players experienced success on the court. One week later, his team treated the home crowd at Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena to an encore.
For the second time in three games, the Chargers (16 – 9, 14 – 7 G-MAC) eclipsed the 100 point threshold, defeating the Ohio Valley University Fighting Scots (0 – 20, 0 – 24) on Saturday, 103 – 37.
It was a special day for four Chargers in particular: the team’s 2018 senior class.
Seniors Michelle Boykin and Maddie Reed started the game at the guard position, with senior Jess De Gree drawing the start at forward and senior Allie Dittmer starting as usual at center. Junior forward Makenna Ott, the team’s leading scorer this season, rounded out the starting lineup on Senior Day.
Hillsdale’s typical five starters are Dittmer, Reed, Ott, and juniors Brittany Gray at forward and Allie Dewire at guard. On Saturday, those five combined to score 21 points, while the rest of the team accounted for 82 points. An encore from the bench, indeed.
De Gree made 10 of 13 shots to lead the team with 25 points and added seven rebounds. She also nailed a pair of threes in the second half.
On hand to witness De Gree’s standout performance were her parents, who came all the way from San Clemente, California to watch De Gree for the first time in her collegiate career.
“This one was easy,” De Gree said. “This game was much slower. I was much more confident in myself once I got used to the game, and I started shooting more.”
Fritsche, who often mentions the impact De Gree has during practices as a leader and encourager, got the opportunity to talk about the impact she brought to the court in the victory.
“She understands how to move without the ball and be efficient in those movements,” Fritsche said. “She’s a good finisher. It doesn’t surprise you when she makes all those shots around the basket.”
It was appropriate that on Senior Day, it was a player like De Gree, who so often leads by example in cultivating a positive atmosphere among the team, was the team’s leader on the court on Saturday.
Another feel-good story was the fact that Boykin, who had been shut down for the season due to recurring concussions, suited up to start and finish the game on the floor. It was the first time she’d been on the court since Jan. 4.
“Her teammates talked her into putting on a uniform and jacking up a couple of shots,” Fritsche said. “They wanted her to play one more time. She’s a special kid that’s a good friend and a good teammate, and they wanted to experience one more game with her.”
Another player that seemingly came out of nowhere to make a significant impact was junior guard Hunter Stevens, who made three of four three-pointers and scored 14 points.
Stevens has dealt with concussions this season that have kept her off the practice and game court for extended periods of time, but she proved that when healthy, she has the ability to catch fire and change the course of a game.
“She’s obviously a pretty good player,” Fritsche said. “It’s cool to see her experience success, but it’s not a huge surprise. We think all of our kids can score it a little bit.”
Freshman guard Jaycie Burger flirted with a triple-double, scoring 10 points while collecting seven rebounds and eight assists. Burger has 18 assists in the team’s last three games.
“I’ve been able to learn my teammates’ tendencies throughout the season,” Burger said. “That has helped me place effective passes that allow them to play to their strengths, which makes scoring a little easier.”
Burger is typically Hillsdale’s first player off the bench to compliment the Chargers’ usual five starters. On Saturday, she spent much of the game coordinating an offense that consisted almost exclusively of players who normally take on secondary roles to the core five. That detail wasn’t lost on Fritsche, who pointed to Burger’s performance as a sign of her maturation and leadership.
“Today, I think she took on a leadership role; a really good communicative role,” Fritsche said. “She really wanted to lead that team and get people good looks. She did a great job of it too.”
Burger agreed that her communication allowed her to step into new shoes as a leader on the court.
“I made it a personal goal to increase my volume and talking during the game,” Burger said. “It helped my play to improve and my teammates also responded well. I’m trying to take a leadership role and talking is a very important aspect of that.”
Burger was central to Hillsdale’s ability to include of its players, especially those role players who have contributed to the team’s recent success in so many ways.
One of many role players who enjoyed a stellar game was sophomore center Julia Wacker, who recorded her first double-double of the season, scoring 10 points while grabbing 11 rebounds.
Fritsche had high praise for Wacker’s growth this season, comparing her potential to Dittmer’s. Earlier this month, Dittmer became only the 14th player in program history to score 1,000 career points. Wacker figures to be the team’s starting center, or “five”, next season once Dittmer graduates.
“We’ve gone through the second half of this season thinking that Julia was going to move into that role for next year, to be a go-to five,” Fritsche said. “She’s developed a lot; her ceiling is unknown to all of us. If she has a really good summer, she could have Dittmer-like years in her future.”
Sophomore guard Sydney Anderson also came off the bench with a hot hand, making three three-pointers en route to 13 points, her second time scoring in double-digits in her last three games.
As a team, Hillsdale shot 55 percent from the floor. The Chargers nearly broke a record they set just a week earlier in making 15 of 37 three pointers. The school record for threes in a game is 16, set on Feb. 10.
The Chargers dominated on the boards, out-rebounding Ohio Valley, 60 – 16. Hillsdale remains second in the nation in rebounding margin, out-rebounding opponents by an average of 11.3 boards per game.
The Fighting Scots, who played with only five players due to injuries and suspensions, struggled to get anything going offensively all game long.
Hillsdale’s final game of the regular season comes at the same location where the G-MAC tournament will be held, in Findlay, Ohio. The Chargers travel to take on the University of Findlay Oilers (19 – 6, 16 – 5) on Saturday. Tip off is at 3 p.m. Hillsdale defeated Findlay on Jan. 13, 75 – 67.
Though Saturday will be the final regular season game for De Gree and the seniors, they have their eyes set on more.
“I know we can win the tournament and I want to go on,” De Gree said. “That would be super cool to end my senior year with huge postseason success.”