By David Hughes
TERRE HAUTE — Over the past three decades, Dan Hopkins has been recognized for tennis-related accomplishments countless times in the Tribune-Star.
In 1998, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Tennis Hall of Fame after serving as Terre Haute South’s boys coach from 1979 to 1996 and its girls coach from 1980 to 1988. He’s also one of the founders of the Terre Haute Junior Tennis Association.
The 52-year-old Hopkins probably doesn’t realize this, but he is respectfully known as “Hoppy Hop” around the Tribune-Star sports department because about 15 years ago a young part-time sportswriter named Mark Sterne told the rest of us, “Yeah, me and Hoppy Hop are tight.”
Good nicknames like that are hard to come by.
On a more serious note, Hopkins hasn’t received much publicity for helping turn around the Rose-Hulman women’s program in recent years.
So let’s rectify that today.
After finishing with a 1-9 record during the 2005-06 school year, the female Engineers bounced back to place second in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season in 2006 (losing to Manchester in the championship match), third in 2007 and third (tied) in 2008.
On Thursday evening in Indianapolis, Rose took on three-time defending HCAC champion Manchester in the first round of the conference tournament and lost 5-1.
Still, Hopkins’ squad finished with a 9-4 mark, a far cry from 1-9.
Hopkins credits his athletes — including three-time HCAC Player of the Year Sam Danesis — for the program’s improvement.
“Our seniors on this team were on that 1-9 team [as freshmen] and we won our last match against Oglethorpe,” he recalled before Thursday’s match.
The Engineers were at a disadvantage Thursday because Danesis, a junior from Akron, Ohio, could not compete because of health issues. After compiling records of 17-1 in singles and 14-2 in doubles this season, she learned Monday that she has a lung disorder and she must refrain from physical activity for about a month.
“I feel bad that I can’t play,” Danesis admitted Thursday.
But if Danesis follows doctors’ orders, she’ll get plenty more opportunities to play and win. During her three years at Rose-Hulman, she’s already posted 55 singles victories and 49 doubles victories, both school records.
“She’s the best [tennis] player Rose-Hulman’s ever had, men or women,” insisted Hopkins, who should know what he’s talking about because he joined the Engineers’ tennis staff in 1995.
“She just doesn’t stop. She’s like the Energizer Bunny. She goes and goes and goes.”
“I’ve enjoyed playing here,” Danesis said. “I love playing a lot of the people [from other HCAC schools] that I’ve played against since my freshman year.”
Although Rose will lose seniors Maritza Gonzalez, Betsy Marschand, Kristin Wilson and Katy Zawadski to graduation next year, Hopkins and Danesis think the Engineers will be just fine in 2009.
“Hopefully, I can go undefeated in singles and win HCAC Player of the Year again,” mentioned Danesis, a computer-engineering major.
“If she doesn’t develop senioritis, she could be one of the top [NCAA] Division III players in the Midwest,” Hopkins added. “She could be playing Division I, no problem. She came here for the school.”
And that’s the way it should be.
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at
email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.