Pool: Dickinson State Blue Hawks women's basketball successful start begins with head coach Mark Graupe
Back in his first year coaching at Williston High in 1999, Mark Graupe remembers a fellow coach watching his team's first practice. Graupe said the coach told him he almost felt bruised and hurt just watching.Graupe has brought that same practice...
Back in his first year coaching at Williston High in 1999, Mark Graupe remembers a fellow coach watching his team’s first practice. Graupe said the coach told him he almost felt bruised and hurt just watching.
Graupe has brought that same practice style and overall mentality to this year’s Dickinson State women’s basketball team.
The No. 22-ranked Blue Hawks continue their season against Johnson and Wales (Colo.) University at 5:30 p.m. today then against Trinity Bible College at 5 p.m. Saturday in Scott Gymnasium.
“That’s something I’ve tried to drill home from day one - we outwork everyone,” Graupe said. “In the long run, we’re going to outwork you, and we’re going to see if that results in a win.”
So far, it’s translated into wins over NCAA Division II and old in-state rivals University of Mary and Minot State.
The Blue Hawks started out the year 6-2 against mostly teams competing at a higher collegiate level after going 10-18 last year and losing in the opening round of the North Star Athletic Association playoffs. They have three NCAA Division II wins and two NAIA Division I wins, which earned them their NAIA Division II national ranking.
DSU’s only losses have come at the hands of NAIA Division I No. 5-ranked Montana State-Northern.
To fare 6-2 in that stretch, with the only losses by a cumulative five points in MSUN is impressive.
“For us to get an at-large bid, we have to be ranked,” Graupe said. “We want to be a top 20-ranked team just in case we don’t win the conference to make the national tournament. That’s the whole goal, is to make the national tournament.”
Graupe believes a big reason for the team’s success this year is because of transfers, and he’s not wrong. Senior Janniqua Thomas, from Northern Colorado (15.4 points and 7.1 rebounds a game), MacKayla Feeney from Bismarck State College (10 points and 1.63 steals per game), and others have been pivotal in this brutal non-conference stretch.
As a team, the Blue Hawks are faster and more athletic this season, allowing them to play more aggressive defense, which causes easier and quick transitions.
“We’re able to run the floor now and we’ve got shooters,” Graupe said. “Last year, we had such a tough time scoring. This year, we’re able to put the ball in the hole. I don’t think we struggled scoring like last year.”
But an equally big reason for the success, and I think the players would generally agree with me, is Graupe himself.
Junior center Megan Klein said it’s “a big, happy family,” which is in large part due to Graupe.
“Coach really emphasizes team chemistry and unity,” Klein said. “We’re all pretty easy going, so it’s pretty easy to get along with people who are easy going. But the team chemistry is a huge part of our success right now too. Getting along off the floor is going to help us on the floor.”
Graupe has a 30-36 record at DSU, but he’s on track to move above .500 this season. And the way he is in practice, his intensity could very well push the team to its first winning season in five years.
“As a coach, he’s really intense, even off the court,” Feeney said. “He even jokes around and has fun with us. He’s a great, great coach.”
Just talking to him after games and during practices, Graupe is insanely basketball smart. But part of the magic is he doesn’t really take control of the team - he instills his lessons and then just lets them play.
Which, so far this season, is working out.
“I try to give the girls a lot of freedom offensively,” Graupe said. “I don’t want to be that type of person where they look over (at me) immediately (after a shot). I want that to have that freedom to pull the trigger, shoot the ball and let it fly.”
The Blue Hawks have put up plenty of quick shots lately, which has worked out sometimes - like when they went 9 for 12 from 3-point range at Minot State in the first half off quick shots. Other times it hasn’t - like their 35-point first half against Rocky Mountain (Mont.) College. But even when DSU isn’t hitting, Graupe still wants them to be aggressive in defense and transition.
He said his student manager keeps track of how many times players dive on the floor for 50-50 balls, which then earns the players less conditioning at the end of practices. Scores are even kept in rebounding drills, which affects conditioning too.
The guy has set the tone for work ethic.
What’s scariest about this team is it’s still young and, according to Graupe, he’s still expecting other players to break out. Come conference season, if those breakouts happen, this DSU women’s team will be a threat in the national landscape.
Yet another result of Graupe’s philosophies.
“People remember what you do in January and February. They don’t remember what you do in November,” Graupe said. “That’s always been my philosophy is being very patient and remembering in the long run what really counts, and that’s conference play.”