TERRE HAUTE —
Everyone likes an underdog, right?
Then you should really like the Rose-Hulman women’s tennis team. Before the fall season started Sept. 4, coach Dan Hopkins figured the Engineers would end up with a record slightly better than .500.
After all, they lost their four-time Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Sam Danesis, to graduation. Considering they never captured the HCAC team championship with Danesis, how could they expect to do it without her?
Well, that’s exactly what they did Friday when they defeated Transylvania 5-2 in the HCAC tournament title match at the West Indy Racquet Club.
Even without a superstar like Danesis on the roster, Rose concluded its fall campaign with an 11-1 overall mark (8-0 in the HCAC regular season) and earned its first-ever berth in the NCAA Division III tournament, which will take place May 13-15 at a location to be determined.
“This whole team is made up of girls who never won any championships in high school,” pointed out Hopkins, who did win championships as a coach at Terre Haute South High School in the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.
“This team is mind-boggling. I just didn’t know what to expect with a bunch of freshmen coming in. Some of the girls we got were surprises too. With Transylvania having everybody back [from last season] … and us losing Sam, I picked us to finish sixth in the preseason [conference poll].”
Yes, if someone had told Hopkins before the season that this Rose-Hulman team would finish undefeated in the HCAC and earn a berth in the Division III tournament, “I would never have believed that one,” he admitted.
A small sampling of Rose players agreed with Hopkins that there were doubts about the team two months ago, but those doubts are ancient history now.
“We weren’t really sure how our season was going to work out this year,” said Megan Chann, a senior mechanical engineering major from Columbia, Mo. “But we ended up getting a lot of great freshmen. All the returning players kinda came into this season thinking we had something to prove, plus a lot of these freshmen really stepped up.”
“I think we had much more of a team this year,” said Klara Schroederus, the Engineers’ other senior and a mechanical engineering major from Glenview, Ill.
“Last year, we had separate groups of people. This year, everyone loves everyone. We always have a fun time on the bus rides home.”
“I know they all worked awfully hard and they all got a lot better,” Hopkins added.
Chann (8-6 mostly at No. 1 singles and 6-8 with different partners at No. 1 doubles) and Schroederus (13-1 mostly at No. 6 singles) credited Hopkins for much of the team’s success.
“He’s a good coach,” Chann said. “He does a really good job of organizing everything and making sure we’re ready to play on game day.”
“He helped bring in all the freshmen,” Schroederus mentioned. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. He always gives us advice when we’re down. If I’m losing, he knows when to give me space. He knows us all on a personal level, too, which not many coaches take the time to do.”
The NCAA tournament-fueled lovefest also spread to assistant coach Curt Howard, who formerly coached at Sullivan High School.
Chann praised Howard for being “a really great on-court coach during matches.”
Hopkins agrees. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” he said. “He’s a great partner. He’s made the difference in what we do.”
Now the Engineers must shift their focus to the Division III tournament, which happens to be about seven months away. Hopkins already has spring matches scheduled against Wheaton, DePauw, Eureka and Franklin, but he’s looking for more opponents than usual because of Rose-Hulman’s NCAA tournament aspirations.
“At least now we have a lot of time to work on things,” Chann said. “Hopefully, we’ll be even better in the spring.”
“We practice in the spring every year,” Schroederus remarked. “We always have at least a couple matches in the spring anyway. Now there’s more of a reason.”
“The girls are really looking forward to it,” Hopkins emphasized. “We’re not going there to lose. We’re going to win the thing. My goal is to win the whole daggone thing. Is that realistic? I don’t know.… But if we keep working at this and play smart, we can do things that nobody ever imagined.”
Wabash Valley members of the team include freshmen Paige Cook of Terre Haute and Lauren Reberger of Brazil. Rounding out the squad are sophomores Priscilla McGee, Melissa Montgomery, Sage Sackett and Victoria Zheng and freshmen Grace Johnson-Bann, Tracy Older, Mary Schultz, Marie Stetter and Colleen Stevenson.
David Hughes can be reached by phone after 4 p.m. at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.