The Hillsdale College Chargers’ preseason schedule is over, and their regular season begins at home this weekend with a pair of non-conference games. The Chargers host the University of Indianapolis on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. and Lewis University on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
Hillsdale played both teams on the road at the beginning of the season last year. The Chargers lost to Lewis, 94 – 80, and beat Indianapolis 76 – 70. This season, Lewis is favored to win the GLVC, while Hillsdale is favored to win the G-MAC. Indy has been picked to finish seventh in the GLVC.
Head coach Matt Fritsche said the team’s ability to prepare will be different against each opponent.
“The Indy game is hard since we don’t know a lot of their kids. They’ve changed a lot from last year,” Fritsche said. “Against Lewis, we know exactly what to expect, and it’s kind of scary. That one we probably have a little more of an idea of what to expect and more of a chance to prepare.”
Hillsdale will begin its season having already played a national-caliber opponent in Michigan State University. On Nov. 1, the Chargers traveled to East Lansing, Michigan, to take on the Division I Spartans in an exhibition match. Hillsdale lost, 88 – 59.
Senior forward Brittany Gray recorded a double-double, leading the Chargers with 14 points and 12 rebounds in the loss. She also made a team-high four three-pointers. In her last year at Hillsdale, Gray is a first-time captain. She said she’s looking forward to stepping up into even more of a leadership role this season.
“I know coach expects a lot more from me being a captain. It’s kind of weird being the oldest on the team as well. I look around and everybody’s younger than me,” Gray said. “It’s kind of a new experience. It’s fun though, and the team is cool to be with.”
Gray’s 12 rebounds are significant since the team lacks in height after the departure of Allie Dittmer, who led the team in rebounding last season as a senior. Hillsdale was the second-best team in all of NCAA Division II last year in rebounding margin, out-performing its opponents on the glass by an average of 12 rebounds per game.
“We’re going to have to focus on the rebounds. That’s where we’re going to drop off a little bit,” Gray said. “But I think we’re going to be a dynamic outside team. Everybody on our team can shoot three-pointers. We’re going to be hard to guard this year.”
The Spartans out-rebounded the Chargers in total, 52 – 42, but grabbed only one more offensive rebound than Hillsdale. The average height on Michigan State’s roster is 6 feet, 1 inch, whereas the average height on Hillsdale’s roster is 5 feet, 10 inches.
Hillsdale made 10 three-pointers to the Spartans’ five. At the same time, more than half the shots the Chargers took were from beyond the arc, and Hillsdale shot twice as many threes as Michigan State. Sophomore guard Jaycie Burger went 2-for-7 on three-pointers, and freshman guard Grace Touchette made two of six three-point attempts.
Senior guard Allie Dewire scored 10 points and dished out a team-high four assists. Dewire played with a finger splint on her left hand after jamming her finger during a practice leading up to the exhibition. Running the offense from the point guard position, Dewire said spreading the ball out to all five players on the court should be an asset for the Chargers this year.
“We’re a very unselfish team. We take a lot of pride in our assisted points,” Dewire said. “The unselfishness and the willingness to pass that ball is a huge strength for us.”
Sophomore forward Amaka Chikwe and junior center Julia Wacker split time at the five position, with Chikwe starting the game on the floor. Fritsche said he expects to take a committee approach with Chikwe and Wacker to replace Dittmer this season.
“Amaka gives us more of a guard presence at the five spot but still as a physical kid. Julia gives us a really good defensive post that can make threes,” Fritsche said. “Neither one of them are exactly like Allie was. We’re going to let them be them.”
Overall, Fritsche said there were positives to take from Hillsdale’s performance against Michigan State.
“We have a chance to be pretty good. We were physically overmatched size-wise, but did some great things. We took care of the ball, we got good shots,” Fritsche said. “We had a couple of three-minute stretches where we had wasted possessions, and that made the difference between it being a 15-point game and a 29-point game.”
Fritsche, who was an assistant coach at Division I Creighton University before coming to Hillsdale last season, is no stranger to coaching under the bright lights. Now a head coach at the Division II level, Fritsche said he was impressed by his team’s demeanor in a first-class atmosphere against a formidable opponent.
“I thought we were ready to play and were super engaged,” Fritsche said. “I don’t think we were overcome with the moment and bright lights. Our kids punched their time clock that day. They had fun, but they played.”
The Chargers are favored to repeat as G-MAC champions this season after making a successful run for the title last year as the No. 5 seed in the conference. But Fritsche said the team doesn’t make an effort to define any expectations or goals at the beginning of the year.
“The only goal we have in mind is being the best us we can at the end of the year and progressing toward that at the end of the day,” Fritsche said. “The best us is really good. We’ll know if we’ve peaked.”
Hillsdale’s first conference game is on Nov. 29, on the road against Cedarville University. Cedarville won the regular season championship last season and was the No. 1 seed for the G-MAC tournament, but fell to the Chargers in the semifinals.
Cedarville is one of four teams that received first-place votes in the conference’s preseason coaches poll. Along with Hillsdale and Cedarville, the University of Findlay and Walsh University also received first-place votes.