As hard as it may be to believe today, the Hillsdale College women's tennis program did not exist in the Winter of 2011. In five years since that time, coach Nikki Walbright and the team have left no doubt that they are forces to be reckoned with.
Walbright led the remarkable ascendance of Charger women's tennis in 2012-13, leading the team to an eight-win improvement over 2011, and was justly rewarded by being named GLIAC Coach of the year. Hillsdale went on to go 3-0 in the spring portion of its season, finishing the 2012-13 campaign with a team record of 14-5.
Another big-time award came the program's way in 2015-16, when Halle Hyman was named GLIAC Freshman of the Year.
In January of 2017, Walbright added the Senior Woman's Administrator title to her duties with Hillsdale.
Walbright is a 29-year-old native of Sylvania, Ohio, who most recently worked as the assistant women's tennis coach at Division I Florida Atlantic University. She played tennis for four years at the University of Dayton, where she graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration/sports management.
At FAU, she earned her master’s degree in exercise physiology. She said the opportunity to join the Charger coaching staff, and to start a program from scratch, were challenges she is anxious to take on.
“I am excited and ready to start building a quality tennis program for Hillsdale College,” she said. “Consistent with the school’s mission, I will promote strong academics and will help each player mature and grow as a person while they are a student-athlete. This will be done through teaching good morals and work ethic, on and off the court.”
Brubacher said Walbright brings a multitude of skills to the head coaching position for the tennis program, and looks forward to building the program with her.
“We are pleased Nicole has accepted our invitation to join the Hillsdale College athletic department,” Brubacher said. “She brings an academic and sport background that gives her excellent preparation to build an outstanding women’s tennis program, and contribute to the department in many other ways as well. We know she will be a great asset to the college.”
During her playing career at Dayton, Walbright emerged as one of the program’s top players, while compiling an impressive list of off-the-court accomplishments. She was a starting singles player during her career, and became part of the No. 1 doubles team while being chosen as team captain as a senior. In 2007, her team earned the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Team Sportsmanship Award, and Walbright was named to the Atlantic 10 Conference Academic Honor Roll in each of her four seasons with the Flyers. She also handled various practice, travel and strength and conditioning responsibilities with the team while she was a player. As a senior in 2008-09, she was named her team’s most valuable player, and received the Rev. Charles L. Collins S.M. Award of Excellence, for her outstanding citizenship in 2008-09.
Carrying those kinds of responsibilities served her well at her next stop at FAU, where she made the smooth transition into assistant coach for the Owls. She emphasized technique, strategy and mental toughness in her role as assistant coach, and was at her best when helping her players win closely fought matches. She was also an active recruiter for the Owls, and played a big part in organizing team activities, travel plans and honing its strength and conditioning program.
Walbright's skill and experience with strength and conditioning instruction led her to fill that coach’s role for the United States Tennis Association Player Development, based in Boca Raton, Florida. She helped develop tennis-specific drills for highly skilled players, to use both on the court and in the weight room.
“I also look forward to expanding our strength and conditioning program, as the best athletes grow even further outside of their sport with putting extra hours in at the weight room,” Walbright added.
Walbright also worked as an instructor for the undergraduate course Health, Fitness for Life at FAU, teaching nearly 700 students during her two-year tenure at the school. In addition, Walbright worked as the strength and conditioning coach at the Delray Competitive Tennis Club, where she worked with junior-level players, ages 8-17, on how to improve technique, increase physical fitness and to prevent injuries. She is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and has First Aid and CPR certification.
Walbright played high school tennis at Sylvania Northview, not far from Toledo, where she racked up a career record of 108-15. She was a four-time sectional and district qualifier and was a three-time state qualifier. She was a sectional doubles champion three times, and was named Second-Team All-State in 2004-05. She earned First-Team All-League distinction in 2002-03, 2003-04 and 2004-05.