The Hillsdale College Chargers will kick off their spring season on Sunday, hosting Davenport University. Following a dominant 2017 – 2018 season that ended with a G-MAC championship, Hillsdale will look to follow up that success with more in their second year in the conference.
Davenport’s fall record was 1 – 8, and although Hillsdale didn’t have any formal meets in the fall, the team kept up its game by playing in two tournaments, the ITA Regionals at Grand Valley State University and the Northwest Ohio Invitational in Lima, Ohio.
“[The tournaments] gave us a lot of stuff to work on in the offseason and take into the spring season. I was really happy with the quality of the matches,” coach Nikki Walbright said.
Walbright also said the two freshmen on the team, Sarah Hackman and Sophia Spinazze, have changed the team dynamic in ways she didn’t imagine, since no one left the team after last season.
For her part, Spinazze said she’s looking forward to finding a place to fit into the team.
“I want to keep working hard, find what the team needs, and fill that role,” Spinazze said. “Really just learning from the other girls what college tennis is like.”
The Chargers worked on getting comfortable in doubles play during the fall, something that showed in the doubles matches when senior Corinne Prost and junior Katie Bell took the ‘A’ consolation draw at September’s ITA Regionals and freshman Sarah Hackman and Cimpeanu went 3 – 0 in doubles play at the NWO Invitational.
“Corinne and Katie Bell have been excellent,” Walbright said. “They’re a really strong team, so I see them having a really strong start of the season together.”
Spinazze, who went 2 – 1 in singles and picked up a win with Julia Formentin at the NWO Invitational, learned from tournament play that she needs to work on taking charge of points.
“I worked most on stepping in when I see the opportunity and taking control of the point. I’m more of a defensive player, which is good,” Spinazze said. “But at the same time I’m working on having both sides to my game instead of just the one.”
The Chargers want to go into Sunday’s competition with a flexible mindset, according to Prost.
“Our team generally goes into each match with the basics: being open to an adjustable game plan, and finding a point of consistency to return to if the match begins to get away from us,” Prost said. “Positivity and giving consistent encouragement to each other is always a given.”
Walbright’s goal as coach follows the flexible nature of the sport, she said.
“It’s a team sport, but it’s very individual,” Walbright said. “Having a good awareness of what each player is working on, and knowing their personalities so I can coach them well, and then also helping provide them an environment that makes them all successful.”
Senior Halle Hyman, last year’s G-MAC Player of the Year, will return to competition after eight months away from the sport due to a shoulder injury. She will finish her college career in a position to defend the conference dominance she and the Chargers enjoyed in 2018.
“It’s a tough situation to be in, but I’ve been surprised by how seamlessly she’s been able to come back and practice,” Walbright said. “Her footwork is great, and her shots are great. She’s a fighter and has the experience of being able to win tight matches.”
The Chargers will play a handful of non-conference opponents before their conference schedule begins March 29. Sunday’s game begins at 1 p.m.