The Hillsdale College Chargers spent Thanksgiving in Winter Park, Florida for the Rollins Thanksgiving Tournament and picked up their first win of the season during the trip.
But before playing games on Friday and Saturday, the team visited Universal Studios and Disney’s Magic Kingdom on Nov. 21 and enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner with teammates and family.
“I used to go to Disney as a kid, so it was kind of nice going back older getting to revisit it and all of that stuff,” senior forward Brittany Gray said.
On Friday, the Chargers took on the University of the Sciences Devils, ranked 13th nationally in NCAA Division II entering the contest.
Hillsdale played competitive for all but a small stretch during the second quarter, and that was the difference in a 75 – 60 loss. The Chargers outscored the Devils 35 – 34 in the second half, but scored just six points in a rough second quarter.
“I was really happy that we showed fight and stayed with it,” head coach Matt Fritsche said. “We made some great effort plays down the stretch. Outside of a couple of minutes there, we were really solid.”
Junior center Julia Wacker, who twisted her ankle on Nov. 19 in a loss against Ferris State University, played just three minutes. The Chargers were without senior guard Allie Dewire the entire tournament, who suffered a concussion early in Hillsdale’s second game of the season on Nov. 11.
Freshman guard Grace Touchette played point guard in Dewire’s absence, and led the team with a career-high 18 points in the loss. She made three of seven three-pointers and was on the floor for a team-high 34 minutes. Touchette has started each of Hillsdale’s past three games.
“I didn’t expect to have a role as big as I do right now. I was ready for it, I just wasn’t expecting it,” Touchette said. “But I’ve gotten used to it since that first game.”
Fritsche said that even when Dewire returns, whom he deemed “not probable, but possible” to return this week, he expects to find ways to play both Touchette and Dewire at the same time.
“I think they compliment each other,” Fritsche said. “I think their strengths play together really well. I could see them playing together.”
Filling Wacker’s void was sophomore forward Amaka Chikwe, who filled up the stat sheet with six points, five rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. Chikwe figures to be part of the regular rotation at the five position even when Wacker is fully healthy.
Hillsdale played the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez on Saturday in the tournament’s consolation game. The Chargers ensured they would not return to Hillsdale winless on the season as they picked up their first win of the year in a 71 – 52 victory.
Gray led the team with a season-high 19 points and five three-pointers in her best shooting performance of the season.
“I’m a little rusty toward the beginning of the year,” Gray said. “As you get more shots up on game courts and stuff, and being in the whole atmosphere of games, you start to kind of get your niche.”
Gray attempted 15 three-pointers total, and the team as a whole went 12-for-37 from beyond the arc. Fritsche said while the team has many capable three-point shooters, he wants to find ways to generate more scoring opportunities inside the arc.
Without Dewire and Wacker, however, the team’s approach is somewhat affected, Fritsche added. The majority of both of their shots come from inside the paint.
Senior forward Makenna Ott nearly recorded a double-double in the win, scoring 13 points while grabbing nine rebounds. Ott scored her 1000th career point on Nov. 19 against Ferris State.
Sophomore guard Jaycie Burger scored a season-high 11 points and grabbed five rebounds while dishing out four assists.
After being one of the top rebounding teams in all of NCAA Division II last year, the Chargers don’t have the same height this season, especially with Wacker hurt. But that didn’t stop them from out-rebounding both of their opponents over the weekend.
Fritsche said rather than relying on one or two stellar rebounders, the team is doing a better job of ‘gang-rebounding,’ where all five players on the court are responsible for getting in position for a potential rebound on every shot.
“We’re asking everybody to do it. They play hard and do a nice job on the glass,” Fritsche said. “We emphasize more of a team approach than we had to a year ago.”
The Chargers begin conference play tonight when they travel to Cedarville University to take on the Cedarville Yellow Jackets. Tip-off is at 5:30 p.m. This is the first meeting between the two teams since the G-MAC tournament last season, when the fifth-seeded Chargers upset the top-seeded Yellow Jackets. This year, Hillsdale is favored to repeat as G-MAC champions in a preseason coaches poll. Cedarville was ranked third in the poll.
“Going in as the number one seed, you have a target on your back. Especially with the tournament run we had last year, people are going to want to get revenge on us,” Gray said. “If we play the way we’re supposed to, we’ll deserve that number one seed this season.”
Hillsdale then travels to Tiffin, Ohio to play the Tiffin University Dragons on Saturday for a 1 p.m. tip-off. This is the first year Tiffin is members of the G-MAC. The Dragons were picked to finish ninth among 14 teams in the preseason poll.
“We’re moving in the right direction as far as improvement. This will be a tough weekend,” Fritsche said. “I think we’re on the right track, and I hope that it will transfer over into results this week.”