Experience paying off for unbeaten Hawley boys basketball squad
“We’re just more physically and mentally ready to compete in Section 8AA and the Heart O’ Lakes (Conference),” Stoa said. “Our youth has grown up."
HAWLEY, Minn. — The Hawley boys basketball team lost seven of its first eight games two seasons ago. Last year, the Nuggets won three of their first eight.
This year is a different story for the Nuggets, who are off to an 8-0 start to the season.
Hawley played a young lineup of sophomores and freshmen the past two seasons. And as a result, took its lumps. The underclassmen the Nuggets relied on the past two seasons are now juniors and seniors, and armed with plenty of experience.
“This was their time to prove that they’ve learned from the roller coaster ride that the last two years have been,” Hawley head coach Nathan Stoa said on the first part of the season. “And they have.”
Hawley has more wins through eight games this year than the previous two combined, and is outscoring its opponents by an average of 76-50.
“We all put a lot of time in during the offseason,” senior Brady Gratton said. “We didn’t like how the last two years have gone and we wanted to change that.”
Gratton, a 6-foot-4 forward, is in his third season starting for the Nuggets. He’s averaging 10 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 40% from beyond the arc. Brady’s brother, Mason, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, is also a three-year starter for the Nuggets.
Mason worked his way into the starting lineup as a freshman. He's averaging 14.4 points per game and shooting 70% from the floor and 86% from the free-throw line.
“We’re just more physically and mentally ready to compete in Section 8AA and the Heart O’ Lakes (Conference),” Stoa said. “Our youth has grown up. They’ve been exposed and seen weaknesses and they’ve improved on those.”
Hawley reached the section championship in 2019 and spent the next two seasons rebuilding after it graduated almost all of its varsity experience.
Brady knew the Nuggets had the potential to put together a strong season this winter. The team is older, battle-tested and has good chemistry, he said.
“We’ve all been playing together for a long time,” Brady said. “We’ve all gone through our struggles. And now it’s all really coming together.”
The Nuggets handed previously undefeated Thief River Falls (7-1) its first loss of the season last Friday with a 79-55 win. Hawley’s entire starting five finished with double-digit points in the section victory.
Stoa said Hawley’s up-tempo defense has fueled its offense this season.
“So far, defensively, we’ve come out and we've been able to pressure teams into turnovers and we’ve found that we play really well with up-tempo and turning defense into offense,” Stoa said. “That’s been able to get us easy buckets and getting us sharing the ball, especially in transition.”
The Nuggets are led in scoring by junior forward Sam Senske, who is averaging a double-double of 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds. Sophomore guard Brevin Stoa (12.5 points) is Hawley’s fourth player that is averaging double-digit points.
Hawley picked up an 81-74 overtime win over Section 8AAA opponent Detroit Lakes earlier this season. Stoa has been impressed with how his team has responded to adversity when faced with it this season, but noted big tests still lie ahead.
“We know that the schedule is gonna heat up going forward here once we get into more conference and section games,” Stoa said.
“We’re hoping to be playing for quite a while,” said Mason, who is also averaging 3.1 steals and 3.7 rebounds per game.
Hawley plays Pelican Rapids (6-3) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Pelican.