A Family Affair
Alexandria Basketball’s Dynamic Duo
by Norm Newell
photos by Jeremy Petrick Photography
If you know anything about Alexandria girls basketball over the years, you know the names Kohler and Hatlestad. The name Wendy Kohler usually comes up first, because she’s been the head coach of Alexandria girls basketball for 31 years. The long-time assistant for the team is Julie Hatlestad Wrobel, now 17 years at Alexandria and before that a head coach at Climax-Fisher and Perham.
Over the last four years, Cardinal basketball has become a family affair with the emergence of their dynamic duo at the guard position, Macy Hatlestad and Kendall Kohler. Seniors this year, they joined the varsity team in eighth grade, where they played meaningful minutes and have been starters since ninth grade.
And yes, they are the daughters of the coaches.
Macy and Kendall have lived the “gym life” since they were three years old. They both fondly remember going to the basketball camps coached by their mothers and were thrilled when they each got camp T-shirts that were so big they would drag on the floor. “We looked forward to the gym every day and would stay after our young girls practice through the practices for the older girls,” noted Macy. Kendall adds, “It was the coolest thing, we really looked up to the bigger girls.”
By third grade they were already playing on traveling teams in weekend tournaments mostly in the metro area and a few in nearby towns. Weekdays after school they would ride the bus to the high school for the varsity practices where they would run the clock, fill water bottles and most importantly socialize with and be doted on by the varsity players. That socialization apparently had a large effect on Macy and Kendall, as they are now very engaging young ladies, easy to talk to, and they both exhibit an excitement for basketball and life in general. A second effect, carried through to this day, is the fact Macy and Kendall feel a deep responsibility to help, encourage and mentor younger girls and teammates in their basketball journey.
They are matter-of-fact about their basketball accomplishments. When asked about how their youth basketball years went Macy said lightly, “I guess we won just about every tournament we entered, even the Twin Cities ones, so it was a lot of fun.” When asked how many youth trophies and medals they have Kendall replied, “No idea, but we have a bunch of that stuff in boxes in our closet.” Their mothers coached their youth teams until 7th grade when they played middle school basketball. On that 7th grade team, they were undefeated, winning most of their games by substantial margins.
When 8th grade came, Kendall and Macy were both moved up to the varsity squad. “We were sure they had the skill, temperament and strength to play at the varsity level and felt with early JV experience they could help our team as the year went on,” stated head coach, and mother, Wendy Kohler. “We knew it would be scrutinized by some, but coach Julie and I both told the girls to stay focused on their basketball, work hard, be good teammates and the other players and soon the fans would recognize they belonged.” The girls acknowledge there was a little tension at first and the older girls jokingly referred to them as the “little babies”, but it was all in fun and they followed their mothers’ advice to work hard and were soon accepted. “We’ve been longtime friends with many of the girls on that team, so everything worked out fine,” noted Kendall. Both of the girls had started playing on AAU summer teams in 6th grade, making the weekly trek to the Twin Cities to play on essentially all-star level teams for their age group every summer since. With one exception, Macy missed the summer after her sophomore year with a torn ACL. They both agreed playing against the best players in Minnesota and around the country made them stronger, better players and prepared them for varsity play.
When asked about their first real varsity play, Kendall spoke up, “At the beginning of the year, we usually just played late in the game when we were ahead by quite a bit, but we clearly remember the Rocori game mid-season when our team was struggling and five new players were put in, including us.” Adds Macy, “We were surprised to be called on in a tight game, and maybe slightly nervous at first. But we were excited to play and actually did well, helping the team pull away for a victory.” They went on the rest of the year to play more meaningful varsity minutes, including playing in the sectional final game, a heart-breaking one point loss. “We played Fergus Falls and we had to guard some really stud players,” said Kendall, “But we held our own and it was a good experience for us.”
Two things come through clearly when you talk with Kendall and Macy. One is they love and respect the game of basketball. Secondly, they have a mature understanding of the benefits and responsibilities of being a leader in sports and on a team. When asked their favorite things about playing basketball they both get wide-eyed smiles. Kendall jumps in, “The sisterhood of striving with your teammates to do your best and get better every day brings a special joy.” Macy agrees that’s number one also, and adds, “The intensity of emotions, the competition and game experiences are a definite high, hard to put in words.” Kendall nods in agreement and says, “You really lose yourself in the moments of the game, everything else fades away.” Their maturity comes through when they both noted that “the life lessons you take away from the game are invaluable”. Both girls were captains last year, their junior year, and will be captains again this year. They take the responsibility of leadership and mentoring younger players seriously saying it is time for them to pay back how well they were treated when they came up through the ranks.
They each bring separate self-recognized skills to the team. Macy says, “I like to be a pass-first point guard, looking to get teammates involved. I also like to attack the rim and don’t mind contact around the basket. I want to be a team leader and a good example on and off the court.” Kendall notes, “I’m defensive minded first, I take pleasure in hounding opposing players, love to play the press on defense. I’ll take the deep three to keep the other team honest. I also want to be a team leader, not show fear in any situation. Between Macy and me, we want to be the loudest, most encouraging girls in the gym during practice.”
Alexandria girls basketball has a history of success with Wendy Kohler as head coach. She has a state championship and 7 career state appearances as part of her 529 career wins over 31 years. That’s an average of 17 wins a year. During the four years Kendall and Macy have played, their teams have averaged 20 wins a year. In three of those years, the Cardinals have lost heart-breaking section finals, but the girls are not discouraged, as they noted, “We have all our starters from last year back and believe we will be ready to take it to the next level this year.” Both Macy and Kendall were named conference honorable mention their freshman year, then all-conference their sophomore and junior years. Macy was named all-state honorable mention her sophomore year and all-state last year while Kendall was all-state honorable mention last year. They are both team leaders in points scored, assists, and steals, and take pride in their rebounding at the guard position. When asked, neither one had any idea what their statistics were, noting the Cardinal basketball culture is all about team, not individual stats.
Macy and Kendall are high achievers not only on the basketball court but in academics and other activities as well. They both have over 3.8 GPA’s and take great pride in the fact their basketball team has won the gold achievement award for high GPA’s in all four of their years, saying it is a team goal every year. They are both in the National Honor Society and are leaders in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization, along with being involved in their church groups. They have been involved in mission trips through their church. They belong to the SLAM organization which is an action and motivation organization for student leaders. Macy is a member of the A-club and a tutor. Kendall is a school ambassador and a freshman mentor. She’s on Student Council and a member of DECA, a student business organization. Macy works as a physical therapy intern for the football team. Kendall plays soccer in the fall and runs track in the spring. These two are very busy and very involved young ladies.
The girls are very positive about their experiences of playing with their mothers as coaches. They appreciate how their mothers have been with them every step of the way, giving them constructive feedback and pushing them to be their best. They see how their moms have not only had a positive impact on their life, but the lives of the many other players that have come through Alexandria basketball. They both agree that in life, their moms will always be their supporter, their life coach, and whatever happens…they’re moms first. The moms have appreciated that they have been able to spend so much time with their daughters and share their passion with them.
Coach Wendy and Coach Julie are understandably proud of Kendall and Macy’s basketball achievements but they both say they are proud of so much more about the girls. “I really like Kendall’s positive outlook on life and her desire to get involved in everything,” says Wendy. “She understands the phrase ‘life’s a game, get into it’ and does just that. She also has the ability to shift the paradigm and see things differently to make positive outcomes out of difficult situations.” Julie says of daughter Macy, “She has such a zest for life and understands community and people involvement and how she can make an impact. I’m also very proud of her faith and involvement in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and church mission trips.”
Basketball will not end for Macy and Kendall when this senior season comes and goes. Both have been recruited by several colleges from Division I to Division III. Macy anticipates she will go to St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota and play for the Tommies. One of the coaches there has been one of her AAU coaches over the years. Macy is looking at a physical therapy major but also states she definitely would like to find a way, whatever her job is, to also coach basketball. Kendall has plans to join the Northern State University Wolves in Aberdeen, South Dakota to play basketball there. She enjoyed the coaching staff and the university fit. She will either pursue a degree in veterinary science, pre-med, or an education degree to teach high school psychology.
If you are interested in seeing a live demonstration of basketball skill, leadership, passion and desire, I suggest you take in several Alexandria girls basketball games this winter season and catch Kendall Kohler and Macy Hatlestad. You will get a first class demonstration of those attributes from a very dynamic duo.