The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 19, 2013

Bethany's Holzhueter is comfortable around THE KIDS

Vikings feature young coach, young squad

By Chad Courrier ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — Jacob Wensmann was a freshman on the Bethany Lutheran men’s basketball bench, he remembers a little bit about that senior point guard from Martin Luther, Greg Holzhueter.

“I just remember that he was on the top of our scouting report,” Wensmann said.

Three years later, Holzhueter is Wensmann’s coach at Bethany. Holzhueter has made a surprisingly quick transformation from player to coach, with a team that has about as much on-court experience as he does.

“He’s only a couple years older than me,” Wensmann said. “but it doesn’t really matter. He’s the coach, he’s the leader. It’s a little different, but age doesn’t matter.”

The Vikings opened the season Friday with a 86-64 loss at St. Olaf and play their home-opener at 7 p.m. at Gustavus Adolphus. There is so much that’s new with the Vikings this season that it might take some time for the new coach and the young players to find their rhythm.

“For a young team on the road, it would have been easy for our kids to be intimidated,” Holzhueter said. “But we were the aggressor early, and it was a tied game with four minutes left in the first half. We need to learn to match the other team’s intensity, but the kids never quit.”

It’s kind of funny to hear Holzhueter, 25, refer to the “kids,” all of whom are within seven years of him. He graduated from Martin Luther in 2011 and worked under former Bethany coach Dave Balza last season. When Balza took another job this summer, Holzhueter was hired.

“It’s been really exciting,” he said. “It was an unexpected opportunity to take this job, and it’s been intense. The workload is greater when you’re the head coach, but this is always what I wanted to do. I’ve got great people around me that have supported, and I’m confident and comfortable in this role.”

Holzhueter has a major rebuilding job this season. The Vikings lost seven seniors and had another top player transfer. Only four players saw action in 20 or more games last season, and none have started a game.

“I’m the only one who’s been here four years, and it’s kind of strange not to have all those guys from last year leading the way,” said Wensmann, a 6-foot-5 post. “We don’t have much experience, but everyone is really talented. It’s up to the veterans to help the younger players keep their heads up and not get frustrated, but if we can put everything together, we can be a good team.”

Wensmann, a co-captain, averaged 2.2 points and 1.1 rebounds, and junior Miah Fogarty, the other co-captain, averaged 1.7 points and 2.3 rebounds. The other starters Friday were forwards Trent Kuechenmeister and Nick Sanborn and guard Darin Haugh, all sophomores. Junior Luke Roddy and sophomore Mitchell Hopkins, both transfers from Minnesota West Community College, were the only other players to get significant minutes.

“It’s a new system, and we’re trying to learn about each other,” Holzhueter said. “We’re looking for consistent effort, and we’ll see who steps up and contributes.”

The offense features more ball screens in the motion offense, and the defense will still try to set the tempo of a full-court game. Holzhueter said recruiting has taken a hit because of the coaching change, and maybe in some ways, being closer to the age of the recruits might have some benefit to an eager high-schooler that’s looking for some stability.

“I’m trying not to get around my age,” he said. “I’m 25, and I have a young coaching staff that works hard and has been really valuable. We want to have high standards for our athletes, both on an doff the court.

“I’m from Mankato, and I really feel comfortable at Bethany. I share the mission of the school, and I hope we can accomplish that with our basketball program.”