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Getting defensive

Laker assistant coach Tim Swenson goes over defensive strategy, as DL head coach Mike Hoganson and the DL players listen on. The combination of Swenson and Hoganson HAS helped the Lakers become one of the state's top defenses. Brian Basham/Record1 / 2
Tim Swenson yells out defensive calls to the Lakers during their near upset of No. 1 ranked Fergus Falls. Brian Basham/Record2 / 2

There are many factors which go into winning a basketball game, but there is one consistent aspect which keeps a team in the hunt - defense.

With good defense, any team can stay within reach of a win, as the Detroit Lakes girls' basketball team is proving this season.

The Lakers have the fifth-best scoring defense in Class 3A, limiting opponents to 43.5 points per game.

During the season, the Lakers have constantly limited teams from reaching their scoring average, as DL has allowed just one team to score over 60 points.

That happened against Class 2A No. 6 ranked Staples-Motley, which had 66 points Dec. 6.

Playing defense doesn't take a lot of scheming and in the case of the Lakers, the keys have been positioning, the willingness to work hard and the desire to take pride in stopping opposing offenses.

That intensity and attitude was brought on by the players' buying into playing tough defense, with assistant coach Tim Swenson being the architect and motivator behind that red blanket of swarming defenders.

"I really walked into a perfect situation here," said Swenson, who was the head coach at Frazee for 13 years. "(DL head coach Mike) Hoganson said to me, 'You take the defense and you do what you want with it.'"

It's been a harmonious partnership between Hoganson and Swenson, as the former can take on full offensive responsibilities, while having the assurance the defense is in the good, experienced hands of the latter.

"With Tim having that much varsity experience as a head coach, it allows me to focus on the team decisions and the offensive side of the ball," Hoganson said. "We have a good system and we still collaborate on what's going on the defensive side of the ball, but he teaches and instructs the players so well on positioning and techniques for defense."

As the results show, that collaboration is working.

Through 24 games, DL has limited opponents to under 50 points 15 times.

Through their last three games against teams who were a combined 60-13, DL was in every single contest due to defense.

Unfortunately, the Lakers lost all three games, but it does show the players they can play right along with the best in the state, as their narrow 48-43 defeat to No. 1 ranked and undefeated Fergus Falls shows.

Buying into the system was the first hurdle for the players to make, but once that happened and they started seeing the results, they were all in.

"We practice very hard on our defense," said junior post Trisa Hutchinson, who is called the 'QB of the defense' by Swenson. "We just make each other better and all of the players take pride in our defense.

"Our goal is to dictate what the offense is going to do and communication on the court has been key."

Swenson's biggest factor in playing good defense is positioning, knowing where to be on the court.

"The kids do this well and they are in the right spot most of the time," Swenson said. "They know their responsibilities.

"Our recipe for success is creating good matchups for our defense."

Chemistry is also important, because Swenson can call a defense midway through a series and the Laker players align properly on the go.

"This team's chemistry is the best I've ever seen," Hutchinson said. "We are also very disciplined and ask questions in practice if we don't know where to go."

The Lakers employ up to six or seven defensive looks, not including full-court pressure. Everything from man-to-man to an assortment of zones is played.

The reason the players have accepted their roles on defense, though, is Swenson and Hoganson developed defenses which fit their players' skills, not the other way around.

Offensively, the Lakers are still looking for that consistent identity, but thus far defense has been the engine which drives the machine.

"Shooting comes and goes no matter how good you are," Swenson said. "But you need to bring your defense each and every night. If you keep playing tough defense, offense will eventually come with that."

With DL's personnel, the path to victory for the Lakers entails three factors, Swenson said.

"First, we are going to 'D' you up hard. Second, we are going to rebound like a banshee. And thirdly, we need to eliminate turnovers."

The Lakers have three players who will crash the boards in starters Hutchinson, sophomore Shay Nielsen and junior Brooke Olson.

That allows their guards of Kyley Foster, senior Karli Kerzman and Marissa Bridgeman to break free and run the transition.

If those three aspects are met, a win usually results.

But if not, the Lakers can still rely on being there at the end because their defense keeps the other team within striking distance.

Skill and talent are obvious needs to play stringent defense, but desire and taking pride in it drive it even more.

"Our goal in every game is to stop each team from reaching their scoring average," Hutchinson added. "For the most part, we do that."

Of the three offensive powerhouses the Lakers have played, none of them came close to their season scoring average.

Fergus Falls was held to 52 and 48 points after averaging 69.5 ppg, while Staples-Motley averages 67 ppg and was held to 59 the second time around.

Thief River Falls also averaged 63 ppg and was limited to 55 and 45 points by the Lakers in their two meetings.

"We want to dictate who shoots the ball and not allow the opposing offenses to shoot where they want to," Swenson said.

It's been a formula for success this season defensively, despite DL's 10-14 overall record.

It's a formula which will make the Lakers a team not many higher seeds will want to face in the playoffs.

And that's exactly what stellar defense will get you.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.