Over the course of his career at Clay, Nate Hinze has proven that he is a natural athletic talent.
He stepped into a key role as the Panthers’ starting point guard during the 2013-2014 season and, despite not ever having played the position before and having to prove his worth on a senior-laden lineup that included Eldin Sarajlic, Michael Schmidt, Mason Pelphrey, and Adam Cooper when he first began his foray as one of the school’s key basketball figures, handled the spotlight extremely well.
Then, a year later, Hinze took up the sport of tennis and quickly ascended up to the team’s No. 1 slot as a singles player despite having never played the sport before.
So it’s no surprise to see that the three-sport standout is obtaining an opportunity to play a sport at the next level, especially considering how quickly the senior picks things up.
And on Friday afternoon, Hinze made his next destination official as the senior inked his letter of intent with the Shawnee State men’s tennis program — who is providing Hinze with an opportunity to shine through the very quality that he has showcased throughout his high school career.
Hinze’s ability to learn fast and on the fly is a quality that certainly attached Steve Boone and the Bears to one of Rosemount’s finest athletes.
“Having somebody who has the athletic components like Nate does is very crucial in the game of tennis,” Boone said. “It’s a physical sport, despite what the perceptions may be, but in addition to that, the athlete in question has to be in tune on the mental aspect of the game. Tennis is a problem-solving event. It’s kind of like chess and geometry. You have to think two or three shots or moves ahead of time for yourself as well as for what you think your opponent is going to give you. Geometry comes into play with using the proper angles to direct your shot in such a fashion that it makes it harder, if not impossible, for your opponent to return the ball.”
And those athletic components that Boone speaks of are components that Clay tennis coach Bobby Blanton knows that Hinze has in spades.
“He’s a good athlete,” Blanton said. “He has a good head on his shoulders, he stays calm, and he can think his way through a match. Those are big strengths that Nate has in his corner.”
For Hinze, however, it’s an excellent opportunity that he wasn’t even expecting to pursue at first.
“It’s a great opportunity as I look to pursue a college career in tennis,” Hinze said. “It’s been good getting to know (Steve) Boone throughout the recruiting process. I was talking to (Shawnee State) athletic director (Jeff Hamilton) about basketball, and he told me about the tennis team. He gave Coach Boone my contact information, and we just started talking and emailing each other back-and-forth. Then, (Bobby) Blanton and I met up with him and it grew from there.”
In anything that Hinze has done on the courts or the pitch, the athletic 6-2 hand has proven his talents in spades — while bringing a winning demeanor to the table in each of the sports that he has partaken in while at Clay.
First, there’s the sport that many know and have seen Hinze perform in — basketball.
The senior guard made his way into the starting lineup from Day One and took a unit that had suffered four losing seasons in five years before his arrival as a freshman to a team that had produced four straight winning seasons and two Southern Ohio Conference I titles by the end of his basketball tenure in a Panther uniform thanks to his play at the guard and wing positions out at the top of the floor.
Hinze, who capped off his stellar basketball career with a sectional title, a district championship, and a regional final berth following a thrilling double-overtime victory against Grove City Christian en route to a 24-3 record this past season, led his unit to a 72-24 overall record during his time in a Clay uniform and earned All-SOC honors in three of his four seasons with the Panthers’ basketball unit. He added Division IV Third Team All-Southeast District honors to his nameplate after obtaining Special Mention accolades in 2016.
His accomplishments, however, have only grown from there.
A year after breaking into the starting lineup from a basketball standpoint, Hinze decided that just playing basketball wasn’t going to suit him.
So as a sophomore, Hinze got involved on a different playing court — by participating on the school’s tennis team in the spring.
Success, once again, came quick, as a SOC I First Team honor, a SOC Player of the Year honor, and a district appearance all followed last year.
But even then, Hinze wanted more.
Over the past school year, Hinze dovetailed his successes on the basketball and tennis courts by joining the soccer team on the pitch for the 2016 season, and, as a midfielder, helped lead the Panthers to a 10-6-1 campaign while earning Division III Second Team All-Southeast District honors in his inaugural season playing soccer on the high school level.
What do all of those accomplishments signify?
A winner, according to Blanton and Boone, among many others.
“Nate puts a lot of time into everything that he does,” Blanton said. “He gets good grades, he has a part-time job, and he dedicates himself to basketball, soccer, and tennis. He’s just a kid that every coach would like to have on their team.”
“Nate’s a great kid,” Boone said. “I like his work ethic. I know that he’s working a couple of part-time jobs during the summer, and even during the school year. Balancing that with his academic studies, his basketball prowess, and his tennis abilities is refreshing to see these days.”
At Shawnee State, Hinze will be joining a roster that sports a slew of area natives.
In all, seven players, including CJ Burk, Zach Colley, Drew Howard, Nicholas Johnson, Tyler Sherwood, Rodney Spriggs, and Chase Ward all played their tennis at local high school in the Scioto and Pike County areas. Five of those seven (Burk, Colley, Howard, Johnson, and Spriggs) are regulars in the Shawnee State scoring, with Johnson and Spriggs comprising the No. 1 doubles spot. Johnson, who is from McDermott, also is the team’s No. 1 singles player.
And Boone expects Hinze to come right in and compete for a scoring slot — in both singles and doubles.
“I’m looking for Nate to play singles and doubles,” Boone said. “He’ll fill in one of our six singles positions that we have at the college level, and generally, we have three doubles teams that we’ll have for both the men and women, as well. I think that he’ll be an integral member of both singles and doubles next year, and I know that he’s got the ability to earn a place consistently in both areas. I want him to challenge the existing players that will be coming back, and I want the guys that will be coming back to understand the challenge and embrace that as well, too, because nothing is going to be handed to them.”
Boone’s point is well-taken and respected because Shawnee State plays in the Mid-South Conference, which is a league that is highly regarded as one of the best in the country at the NAIA level. Three of the seven schools that offer the sport in the conference are ranked in the NAIA Top 25, with No. 5 Lindsey Wilson, No. 9 Campbellsville, and No. 23 Cumberland (Tenn.) comprising the top half of the conference. A fourth unit, Cumberlands (Ky.) doesn’t sit far behind the perennial powers, as they’re receiving votes in the same poll.
So it’s Boone’s thought that adding a winner like Hinze is what will allow the Bears to rise up to the challenge that the quartet — and the rest of the conference — present.
“We’re in a highly competitive conference in the Mid-South,” Boone said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us on both the men’s and women’s teams, but adding a high-quality player with a high work ethic like Nate has displayed is going to allow us to be successful.”
As a whole, the opportunity is bittersweet for Hinze since he’ll be leaving behind a school that has created much of the memories that he holds close.
“I’m going to miss the environment (at Clay),” Hinze said. “It’s a small school, so everyone knows each other and gets along.”
This new opportunity, however, is one that Hinze knows he’ll have a lot of support in.
“It’s an honor,” Hinze said. “But it wouldn’t be possible without my family. They have always believed in me and supported me through everything.”
“Nate is an exceptional athlete, but he’s also an exceptional person,” Blanton said. “He’s just a good kid to be around; always pleasant, always calm. I’m happy for him, I’m happy that I’ve received a chance to work with him, and hopefully, I’ve shown him a few things. He’s a kid that just absorbs all of the information that you tell him. I’m just excited for him and his family, and I’m looking forward to watching him play at Shawnee State next year. I will miss him.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7