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Coronavirus 2019 may have pushed the season to the spring.
But 2020 Highlands alum Maggie Hinegardner and the NCAA Division III Hanover College (Indiana) Panthers women's soccer team made the most of the situation bringing home the first Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament title since 2016 with an undefeated 9-0 campaign. Hanover lost in the tournament title game the previous two years.
"Maggie came in and made just really made a massive impact on our team from the first week of training," said Jim Watts, Hanover Head Coach. "We're blessed with the blessed goalkeeping we've had not only in my 13 years at Hanover, but in my 25 years as a college coach. I think it's a real testament to Maggie."
Hanover defeated the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Terre Haute, Indiana) Fightin' Engineers, 3-0 in the title game. The 19-year-old played the first half at goalkeeper recording four saves.
"It was really awesome," Hinegardner said. "Getting to play in the championship was even better and super special. My teammates are just awesome and really supportive. We all get along really well so that made it even more sweet. The whole school was really happy for us, which was also really cool."
Hinegardner started all nine games playing the first half in every game and allowed just one goal. Hinegardner recorded 14 saves on 18 shots. Hanover outscored the opposition, 35-2 on the season outshooting opponents, 152-48.
Hinegardner was one of four goalkeepers on the team. She mainly split halves with junior Amanda Carmosino. Carmosino has been first team all-conference, first team all-Great Lakes region and newcomer of the year as a freshman.
"(Carmosino) was really helpful and also very supportive," Hinegardner said. "All four of us really just enjoyed each other's company and pushed each other every day in practice. I've split time with other goalkeepers before like in club soccer so I was used to it. But (Carmosino) had not done that before. But she was fine with it as long as we were winning, which we did. It was just a really good experience all around."
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"Everybody on the Division III level is just really competitive. I did notice that it was quicker," Hinegardner said. "But I'm glad that the competitive nature of Highlands and getting to play all these good teams like St. Ursula from Ohio and Sacred Heart really prepared me. My teammates at Hanover also prepared me because they were all the best players on their high school teams. Every day in practice, it was competing constantly so we were well-prepared for all of our competition."
Hanover's team chemistry came together despite the Coronavirus 2019 protocols. Teams were not able to do team bonding activities in the offseason like normal.
"It was a little bit difficult at first," Hinegardner said. "Once the season started, we were spending a little bit more time together. So that was really helpful with the team chemistry."
In the off-season, Hinegardner wants to improve in one-on-one situations. She also said players can never be too good at communication. Hanover practiced a number of formations, but stuck with the 4-3-3 (defender-midfielder-forward) formation because it proved to be solid.
Hinegardner has not decided on a major. But she's considering Spanish with a Political Science emphasis. She received a perfect 4.0 grade-point average her freshman year.
"Highlands was really good academically so I felt well-prepared going into my freshman year," Hinegardner said. "It turned out well. I found the classes to be a little bit more challenging than high school. But I wasn't nervous going into it, which made a bit of a difference."
Players do have an extra year of eligibility because of the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic. But Hinegardner is leaning toward not taking it because she wants to attend graduate school.
Hanover has an undergraduate enrollment of 1,070. Hanover has a fall semester, winter semester before going to a spring semester in May where students take an extra class.
"I think the thing I like the most in terms of the social aspect is that everybody knows each other," Hinegardner said. "It's just easy to walk around campus, say hello and you never really feel alone. I also like the small class sizes and getting to make stronger relationships with people. It's nice the professors know your name."
Hanover's season begins Sept. 1 on the road at Kenyon College (Ohio). Game time is 2:30 p.m.