Number two in our series of articles about the upcoming university national championship. We featured North Florida last time, this time it’s Indiana University’s turn.
Last year, Indiana University did not even field a team for the Dynamic Universal Pickleball Rating’s collegiate-level tournaments, considered the pinnacle of collegiate pickleball. However, Pickleball at Indiana has surged into the top ten in national rankings, and the team is now preparing for the national championships scheduled for November 17-19 in Peachtree Corners, Georgia.
Sam Hutner, a junior at IU and the president and co-founder of Pickleball at IU, orchestrated the formation of a team in collaboration with Timber Tucker, chair of the competition and training committee at the Bloomington Pickleball Club, who also serves as the team’s advisor.
Hutner and the Hoosiers made their inaugural appearance at the DUPR Michigan Regional this year, held from September 30 to October 1.
At the Michigan Regional, Indiana overcame opposition from their Big Ten rivals, such as Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa.
Indiana consequently clinched the Michigan Regional title and secured their spot at the DUPR Collegiate National Championship. This achievement was truly significant for Hutner and the rest of the Indiana team.
Reflecting on this accomplishment, Hutner remarked, “It was super cool to live out my IU athletic dreams.”
Hutner’s path to pickleball was a little different, to say the least. Initially a devoted tennis player, he shifted his focus to tennis due to an injury in high school, using pickleball as part of his physical therapy regimen to maintain hand-eye coordination.
During this period, he developed a profound affection for the sport, noting, “Ever since then, I’ve fallen in love with the sport.”
Latest Pickleball Update: Our good friend at @ActionNewsJax, @RossFirstAlert, recently wrote this article sharing that the @UNFOspreys achieved an impressive 17th national ranking in the @DUPRpb Gamma Pickleball Power Rankings: https://t.co/7PSGD4KHYY pic.twitter.com/v2EUj32Axy— First Dink Foundation (@FirstDinkOrg) October 18, 2023
Shifted His Focus
The team comprised Hutner and three other players for the Michigan Regionals. Alongside Hutner and Tucker, the roster featured sophomore Carter Wittendorf, a nationally-ranked pickleball player at the age of 19, graduate student Mehvish Safdar, a former tennis player at Minnesota, and sophomore Thea Bertolini, a former high-level high school tennis player.
Tucker playfully quipped, “Coach Woodson or somebody needs to be looking at me as a recruiter because I signed two five-star recruits on day one of this program.”
Hutner emphasized that the team’s success on the court emanates not only from the players’ skills but also from their camaraderie. He mentioned that Safdar is often the target of their light-hearted teasing due to her age.
The future of Pickleball at IU holds substantial potential for growth. The university still has to give the sport official recognition, but Hutner and Tucker anticipate imminent approval from the university.
Furthermore, they are in the process of establishing a development team consisting of 16 men and 16 women, set to lead the competitive charge for Indiana starting next semester.
Presently, the eighth-ranked Hoosiers are completely focused as they gear up for the DUPR Collegiate National Championship in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, from November 17-19.
This event offers the opportunity to compete against the finest pickleball teams in the nation, with the added incentive of a $31,000 scholarship for the national champions.
Hutner states succinctly, “We’re putting our heads down, turning on our Rocky training montage music, and we are ready to go down to Georgia and see some red.”
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