By Travis Miller/Sports correspondent
— As a freshman in high school, Danielle Hansen was exposed to the challenges of high level tennis.
She played No. 1 singles for Zionsville Community High School in 2005, her first year of varsity competition, and went 15-4 at the top spot on a team that had six seniors at the other six positions.
Zionsville went on to finish fourth in the state that year and Hansen established herself as a leader for the Eagle tennis program for the next three seasons.
Five years later, Hansen finds herself ready to continue as a leader. The former Indianapolis Star Player of the Year recently completed her sophomore season at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. She enters her senior season hoping to turn around a struggling Division I program that has a lot of promise.
Lipscomb was 5-17 overall last season and went winless in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“It was a very rough year for Lipscomb,” Hansen said. “Part of this is due to the strength of tennis in the Atlantic Sun Conference and another part is due to Lipscomb’s recruiting philosophy. Most Division I colleges recruit internationally for their tennis student athletes. It is not uncommon for many of our conference opponents to not have any Americans on the team.
“Many of these international players who begin their collegiate year at age 20 or later after coming out tennis academies in their country. Having said that, getting to play some of the best talent in the country is a lot of fun and challenging. Lipscomb has historically focused their recruiting on a formula of finding top talent, but also those who want a strong private Christian college experience. We have two girls on our team from Canada and the rest are American.”
Hansen was one of the more regular performers for the Bison this past season. She featured a 5-8 individual record playing at No. 3 singles. She also played at No. 2 doubles and partnered with Kara Jackson for a 7-6 record. Jackson and Hansen started the season hot with a 6-1 record before struggling in the second half of the season. She goes into the 2010-11 year facing more uncertainty, as Lipscomb is seeking a new head coach.
“I think the 2010-11 season will continue to be a rebuilding year,” Hansen said. “We will have a new coach for this coming year. While the coach has not been announced, they are working hard to get new recruits that can make an immediate impact.”
Off the court, Hansen has faced the challenge of completing her nursing degree while balancing a full load of practices that comes with being a Division I athlete. She must attend clinical, classes, and still find time to make it to practice and travel with the team to matches.
“It is tough,” she said. “Most college coaches at the D1 do not like to recruit nursing students due to the intense course load and demanding clinical. College tennis does not have much of an offseason as we play tournaments and have an increased focused on cardio and strength training. During the main (spring) season we often play one night during the week and travel Friday through Sunday.
“Because most of the conference is in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Florida, we travel a lot. Having said that, the adjustment hasn’t been too difficult. Playing in the USTA Jr. program growing up required me to travel most weekends to tournaments and practice five days a week so I had already developed pretty good time-management skills.”