Freshman Brian Hackman plays at home earlier last season. (S. Nathaniel Grime | Col­legian)

The Hillsdale College men’s tennis team returned to com­pe­tition with a solid showing at the Charger Invi­ta­tional at home on Sunday, Sept. 13. Stepping onto the courts for match play for the first time since March, the Chargers won four of six singles draws and earned the highest winning per­centage in a day of matches between players from Walsh Uni­versity, Tiffin Uni­versity, and the Uni­versity of Findlay. 

The Chargers’ com­bined match record of 15 – 7 out­paced the other schools. In doubles, they had a mixed record of 4 – 3, but dom­i­nated singles with an 11 – 3 record.

The no. 3 singles draw did not come easy. Sophomore Tyler Conrad won both matches in a third-set tiebreak after losing the first set. In the final against Tiffin, Conrad went down in the second set, too. He battled back to force a tiebreak but lost seven straight points and found himself down 3 – 9, just one point away from losing the match. Facing six match points, he dug in.

“I got into the men­tality where I wasn’t going to miss a ball,” Conrad said. 

After forcing a couple errors, Conrad said he was able make his opponent tighten up and forced the tiebreak to 8 – 9. Despite being down by bigger margins other times in the match, Conrad said he faced the most tension here. 

“In my head I was like, ‘This is where it ends,’” Conrad said. “But when I won the point my sideline just exploded and it helped the guy implode a little.”

From a level 9 – 9, Conrad won the next two points to win the match. After losing seven straight points in the tiebreak, he answered with eight straight to win.

“It was unbe­lievable. I’ve never seen any­thing like that before,” head coach Keith Turner said. “That’s just a tes­tament to Tyler never giving up.” 

All throughout the singles draw, Chargers pulled through tough matches. In the 2 singles draw, junior Brian Hackman beat Findlay’s no. 2 in a tight third set tiebreak to play in the final match of his draw, which he won in straight sets.

“It was very impressive con­sid­ering he was playing four last year,” Turner said of Hackman. 

With a suc­cessful singles run and a mixed record in doubles, the Chargers are in a good position to win matches and prove them­selves this weekend at the ITA Regional Cham­pi­onships. 

“This was a great warm up for the ITA,” Turner said. “I think this was a big benefit for us and the other three teams, because the tour­nament is going to have good players.”

Can­celing its season, the com­pet­itive GLIAC will not play in the event. But in addition to the top three teams in the G‑MAC, teams from the GLVC will compete, such as Drury, nationally ranked eight, and Uni­versity of Indi­anapolis, ranked 14th last April. The ITA has sus­pended pre­season rankings for the 2020 – 21 season.

“Last year at ITAs I won the B draw so this year I’m able to play the A draw,” Conrad said. “I’m just hoping to get as far as I can because it’s another level of com­pe­tition this year.”

Turner said while the chargers are rolling in singles, the team’s doubles play will be a weak spot. Every team is new this fall, and all three of Hillsdale’s freshmen are in the lineup.

“There will def­i­nitely be a focus in doubles, but again we just don’t have a ton of time,” Turner said. “Hon­estly, a lot of kinks are going to have to be worked out after the ITAs.”

The ITA Regional Small College Cham­pi­onships will take place Sept. 19 – 21 at the Univ. of Indi­anapolis.