Dynamic Culture Helps Natick Girls Hoop Program To Thrive

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Coach Dan Hinnenkamp with his captains (from left) Emily Gustus, Brenna McDonald and Laney Ross.)
Issue Date: 
February, 2020
Article Body: 

The Natick High girls basketball team has qualified for the post-season playoffs nine times in the last 10 years and the only season the Redhawks missed a tourney berth occurred when they had a 9-11 record, falling short by one victory in 2012.
During the last decade, the program has played well in the post-season, advancing as far as the State final in 2016 when the Redhawks lost to Bishop Feehan.
A key constant during that dynamic 10-year stretch has been Dan Hinnenkamp, the coach who’s compiled a winning percentage of 65. It’s obvious that important ingredients are needed to produce a culture of winning. It takes sacrifice, team-first players, commitment, and a positive outlook.
Hinnenkamp not only has achieved success in the won-loss column, but he also gets high marks for recognizing and emphasizing the elements that lead to a prosperous program.
“I regard team chemistry highly,’’ Hinnenkamp said. “If I have one star player and don’t focus on the others, then team chemistry erodes. Players have to share the ball and it’s imperative that a coach helps everyone develop.’’
The 43-year-old Hinnenkamp, who took the varsity reins in 2009 after six years as the girls’ freshman and jayvee coach, is acutely aware of how challenging it is to promote team chemistry. He knows it’s a delicate mix.
“If I have 14 girls, five will start and perhaps three will come off the bench and be rotation players,’’ he noted. “The others may get some minutes or they may not, depending on the opponent and the score. That’s a tough situation. What’s needed is commitment to the program. When a coach has players at the end of his roster who are good teammates and who remain positive, then a strong culture will be built. If players make a commitment to the team, they’ll contribute in a key way.’’
When compiling a roster, Hinnenkamp prefers certain attributes that lead to and promote team chemistry. “A strong skill-set is huge and that’s across the board — point guard skills and post skills,’’ he emphasized. “Team-first players who are positive and don’t mind sitting on the bench are crucial. Players who are coachable, confident, strive to be leaders and have a high basketball IQ are other key traits.’’
Five Redhawks who display the attributes Hinnenkamp admires are senior captains —center Brenna McDonald, point guard Laney Ross, and off-guard Emily Gustus. Junior forward Maya Stopka and sophomore guard Alana Ciccarelli also are in that mix.
“Brenna is a dominant scorer and rebounder,’’ Hinnenkamp said. “She’s a great defender and shot-blocker, able to make opponents adjust to her. Laney has good court vision, competes at a high level and is a top-notch defender. Emily is a phenomenal three-point shooter, a good ball-handler who has a high hoop IQ. Maya is athletic and she’s developing a quality offensive game. She jumps high and runs fast. Alana can shoot or drive to the hoop. She’s an excellent on-the-ball defender.’’
The quintet, which has played a key role in Natick’s 6-1 record at Local Town Pages deadline, has enabled Hinnenkamp to employ the kind of offense and defense he likes. “I prefer an up-tempo style on offense, lots of fast breaks, and I like to press opponents bringing the ball up court. We spend more than half our practice time on defense. One of our goals is to limit opponents to 40 points or less in every game.’’
Hinnenkamp’s goals as the season got underway were “to qualify for the tourney and to develop our skills so that we play at a high level.’’ So far, so good because the Redhawks are closing in on a playoff berth and competing intensely. “When we started the season, I was optimistic and excited,’’ Hinnenkamp said. “But, I also was hopeful that the puzzle pieces would fit the right way.’’
A highly-regarded coach not only in the Bay State Conference, but also at the State level, Hinnenkamp’s arrival at Natick High had a few twists and turns. He was born in Virginia, went to elementary school in Seattle and completed middle school and high school in Kodiak, Alaska.
“My father was in the Coast Guard and we moved around a lot,’’ Hinnenkamp said. “I played basketball, baseball and ran track in high school,’’ he noted. “When we moved back to Seattle, I decided to attend Washington State, where I received bachelor degrees in biology and education.’’
Offered a teaching job in Seattle in 2000, Hinnenkamp had a six-month wait before starting his career in the classroom. His adventurous nature, however, got the best of him and he opted to travel before returning to Seattle. Boston interested him, so he came east.
“A job was open for six months at Silver Lake Regional in Kingston,’’ he revealed. “I took it, thinking I’d later return to Seattle. I liked Boston and Cambridge, especially Harvard Square. I thought about moving back west but I stayed in the east. Natick High was looking for a biology teacher and I was hired. One year led to a second year, then a third. As I approached 27 years of age, I met Jessica and we got married.’’
Now living in Hopkinton, Hinnenkamp and his wife have two children — Colin, 9; and Hailey, 6). For the last 19 years, he’s taught biology and life sciences at Natick.
“Before I coached Natick’s freshman and jayvee girls teams, I was an assistant coach in outdoor track at Silver Lake,’’ Hinnenkamp said. “When I eventually took the varsity girls job in Natick, I was fortunate to have an assistant like Kirk Buschenfeldt. He previously was the girls varsity coach in the 1980s and ‘90s. He’s still with the program and he’s smoothed out some wrinkles and provided great advice.’’
Buschenfeldt’s experience obviously was a plus for the new coach because prior to Hinnenkamp taking the varsity reins the Redhawks had qualified for only two tourney appearances in 15 years.
That’s all changed now, thanks to an intangible asset like team chemistry that’s built with team-first players who remain positive in spite of limited playing time.
Dan Hinnenkamp seems to be laid back and not overly vocal on the sidelines in the heat of battle. He’s that way for a good reason. As he says: “I don’t have to scream or crack the whip because I rely on our culture.’’
A culture built on sacrifice, trust and commitment.