The Hillsdale College Chargers will begin their season with an exhibition game tonight against the Michigan State University Spartans at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
The Chargers won the G-MAC tournament last season under first-year head coach Matt Fritsche. Hillsdale is co-favorites with the University of Findlay to repeat as conference champions in the G-MAC preseason coaches’ poll.
Fritsche, now in his second season, said he’s been pushing his team harder in preseason practices than he did last year.
“I think we understand the strengths of our players a little bit better than we did a year ago at this time,” Fritsche said. “We understand how hard we can push them. We’re starting off with a better focus than we did a year ago.”
Scrimmaging Michigan State will be a big push for the team to begin the season. It doesn’t count toward the team’s record, and it will offer an opportunity to compete against one of the best Division I teams in the country on a big stage.
“We want to make some threes, make them call a couple of timeouts,” Fritsche said. “We’d like to see our own team improve throughout the course of the night and get used to the atmosphere and the physicality and the defensive pressure that they’re going to be able to apply to us that no one else will. Our ultimate goal is growth.”
Last year, the Chargers came on in the second two-thirds of the season, as the team went 5 – 5 in their first 10 games of the season but finished 14 – 6 in their last 20.
“I wish we would have spent more time teaching fundamentals of our offense last year at the beginning of the year and been more demanding of those things,” Fritsche said. “We weren’t really good until January last year. That was my fault and I’m appreciative of our kids for staying with us when we weren’t necessarily doing a great job.”
Nevertheless, Fritsche said the team would rather get hot near the end of the season again than at the beginning.
“Our expectations are to get better every day. It takes a while to become on the same page and play together like we can,” Fritsche said. “We want to happen in March and not in November. We’re going to be patient with our process.”
The Chargers return three starters this season, all seniors: point guard Allie Dewire and forwards Brittany Gray and Makenna Ott. Ott led the team in scoring last season, while Gray led the team in three-point shooting. All three averaged more than 12 points per game last year.
Dewire, who runs the offense from the point position, said dictating the pace of the game against Michigan State will be critical.
“Our focus is playing smarter than them. Statistically, we are outnumbered in some respects,” Dewire said. “We can definitely slow the ball down, make smart passes. We want to win the ‘brain game’ and play smarter than them and take advantage of our strengths.”
Gray, a native of Birmingham, Michigan, said she is looking forward to the opportunity to play at the Breslin Center to begin her final season at Hillsdale.
“It’s going to be a challenge but it’s also gonna be fun. How many times do you get to say you’ve played a Big 10 team when you’re in Division II?” Gray said. “We’re going to play our hardest and hopefully it works out for us. We’ve just gotta face that adversity headstrong.”
After tonight’s exhibition, the Chargers have more than a week to prepare for their regular season opener on Nov. 10, when Hillsdale hosts the University of Indianapolis.