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Published January 06 2011

Defense still the key: Gottenborg’s effective – and sometimes zany – methods have historically defensive-minded Hawley reaching for greater heights this year

Hawley, Minn. - Was it a weird method or a teaching tool? Either way, it’s something Allie Sannes will remember for a long time.

The Hawley High School girls basketball player remembers a day when longtime coach Bill Gottenborg showed up wearing half of a basketball on his head.

“There was an antenna sticking out of his head and it read, ‘Mr. Intensity,’” Sannes recalled. “He told us that he was going to be intense with us, especially on defense.”

Perhaps the method can be questioned. The result, however, cannot.

Focusing on defense has helped Hawley (6-0) open the season giving up an average of 31.6 points per game.

The best and most recent defensive submission Hawley captured came Monday in a

56-14 win over Lake Park-Audubon. Not even last year’s team, the one that went 28-1, held a team to scoring in the teens.

The last time that happened was in the 2009 season when the Nuggets held Breckenridge to a crippling 19 points.

“We want an attitude of ‘defense comes first,’” Gottenborg said. “We just don’t want teams to score.”

Players such as Sannes said that’s been preached in Hawley going back to when she was younger. Gottenborg’s 26-year tenure at Hawley has been showered with success, but has been marked with defense.

Junior guard Jessy Noreen said Gottenborg’s defensive playbook is so extensive, it’s hard to keep track.

“I don’t know how many defensive plays we have to memorize,” she said. “I just know there’s a lot to go through.”

Put the question to Gottenborg and he won’t give an answer. He’ll just spout out defenses: Zone, man, 2-3 zone, half-court press.

You get the point.

It is more than just naming defenses and knowing where to be. Noreen and Sannes said they’ve learned to know their enemy.

Hawley opens every varsity and junior varsity practice with each player reviewing a binder containing notes. Players are asked to write down and remember an offensive thought and a defensive thought.

“I think when some of them say the binders,” Gottenborg said, “they were probably disappointed, because they thought the school work was over when it came to practice.”

Working is never over, or at least that’s the gist of every practice. Hawley spends 30 minutes daily on defense while going over scouting reports so they know tendencies.

Tendencies. Well, that led to Gottenborg having another memorable, yet weird teaching moment.

“One thing coach always said was look at a player’s belly,” junior center Drew Sannes said, swiveling her hips. “You see that the stomach never moves and that’s usually where the ball is.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548