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Charging on to new season in October

Davis Larson shoots the ball in an earlier game against Findlay. (S. Nathaniel Grime | Courtesy)

Despite COVID-19 con­cerns, the Hillsdale College men’s and women’s bas­ketball teams will play this year and start as close to on-time as pos­sible. 

Sports were one of the many things lost during the COVID-19 pan­demic, with high school and pro­fes­sional leagues alike stopping play indef­i­nitely. Now, with the NBA forced to play in a bubble in Orlando, Florida, and mask usage required for nearly all high school sports in Michigan, there’s still uncer­tainty coupled with the idea of a return to col­le­giate bas­ketball. 

“We are able to start,” men’s head coach John Tharp said. “They’re so excited to be back. Not having a spring was such a hard thing for them, but in these beginning stages, their energy has been ter­rific.”

This season, which Tharp described as unprece­dented, will cer­tainly not come without its dif­fer­ences though. 

“We’re only playing 22 games this year,” Tharp said. “That was an NCAA decision, and com­pares to the 28 or 29 that we played this past regular season.”

Charlie Averkamp, who is preparing to start his first season as the head coach of the women’s team, echoed the unprece­dented nature of the coming season.

“As of right now, we are sup­posed to start on time,” Averkamp said. “But you never know with every­thing going on, that could change tonight, that could change tomorrow, that could maybe never change.”

Although the season’s start date is still up in the air, Tharp is con­fident that practice will start as soon as pos­sible. 

“In years past, we’ve been able to start around October 15,” Tharp said. “My feeling is that we won’t start until a little later in October.”

The final decision, Tharp said, will likely not come down to him and his fellow coaches.

“All of us and the com­mis­sioner of the league, we’re all kind of waiting to see what the NCAA is saying about things,” Tharp said. “Then it goes to the ADs and to the pres­i­dents of the G‑MAC, and those deci­sions get made from there.”

Even facing uncer­tainty, Averkamp said the team is more than ready and will be pre­pared for whenever the first tip-off occurs.

Though set­tling into his new job has been far from easy, Averkamp said he’s excited for the season and sees a lot of potential in his team.

“We have a really, really good group of kids who want to work hard, who want to be coached, and who want to be chal­lenged,” Averkamp said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group to start off my career at Hillsdale.”

Going on his 14th year as the head coach, Tharp expects a lot from his team as well.

“Year in and year out we expect to compete at a very high level,” Tharp said. “We expect to play a certain way and that will never change.”

Cur­rently, the coaches are only allowed eight hours with their teams a week; four of on-court bas­ketball work and four of con­di­tioning. Fifth-year senior Davis Larson said the coaches are using the time to prepare the teams for any­thing that might come.

“The coaches keep echoing it every single day, we want to be pre­pared for any­thing that happens,” Larson said. “Whoever we face, whenever the refs throw up the ball, we’ve got to be ready, no matter when it is, no matter who it is.”

Larson is recov­ering from ACL and meniscus injuries, which caused him to miss the final seven games of last season. Though he expects to be ready within the first couple of games of the 2020 – 21 season, he said he’s cur­rently limited to more of a lead­ership role as a teammate.

“Right now it’s in the weight room, and with on-the-court con­di­tioning, it’s 100% to go with that,” Larson said. “But on court it’s more of a lead­ership, sup­portive role, which is fine. I’m happy to do that.”

Larson, like his coach, said he sees a lot of potential in his team and that they have a solid core of returning pieces and young players who are ready to step up.

“Everyone has to take steps,” Larson said. “I think if they keep maturing and learn our offense, learn how we do things, and I think if we do things right, there’s not a lot of teams that can stop us.” 


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We need help to find a way to prevent COVID-19

COVID-19 studies are enrolling now.

Those who qualify:*

  • may receive the investigational vaccine or placebo at no cost
  • may receive compensation for time and travel
  • may receive free testing for COVID-19