by Norm Newell
Photography by Justin Eiler
Breckenridge boys basketball is on the rise and had a break-out season last year, going 21-8 and reaching the state tournament for the first time since 1979.
The 2014-2015 season followed four losing seasons since 2010. It was a defining moment for the team, finally getting over the hurdle of defeating their nemesis, Hawley, in the section tournament and making a fairy tale buzzer-beater basket to defeat Crosby-Ironton by two points to make the trip to the big dance.
The Cowboys had winning seasons from the 2003-2004 campaign through the 2009-2010 year under Coach Dean Haugo, now the athletic director at Moorhead High School. However, they would perennially run up against powerhouses Pelican Rapids and Staples-Motley and couldn’t make their way out of the section.
When current coach Tyler Bormann took over in the 2012-2013 season, the team had their third straight losing year. In 2013-2014 they went 12-14, but Coach Bormann’s defensive intensity and offensive up-tempo play was starting to take hold, going 9-2 in February heading into sections. However, they fell to Hawley in the section tournament. Coach Bormann was undeterred by that, feeling the team had bought in to the culture of hard work and being “all in” for each other. Bormann’s philosophy of “win as one” was starting to take hold.
During the 2014-2015 season, the Cowboys were led by the school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder Nate Lorenz, a 6-foot-7 player with a full set of skills, now playing college ball for Minnesota-Crookston. While Lorenz was the leader in many categories, the development of all the players on the team is what led to their success. In fact, in the section semi-final against Hawley, Lorenz spent the majority of the game on the bench in foul trouble and sophomore Stevin Lipp and junior Ashton Hegge led the Cowboys in scoring for the game, while senior Nate Blaufuss hit a late three-pointer to make the Cowboy lead insurmountable. Coach Bormann could see the development as a team to “win as one” coming to fruition. When it came to the section final, another player, Zarek Reiff, was one of the leading scorers and Ashton Hegge stepped up for the big shot at the buzzer to win the game by that two-point basket.
Tyler Bormann is a self-described basketball junkie. He grew up in the Detroit Lakes area, playing basketball for the Lakers, graduating in 2002. He attended Concordia College, where he met his wife Cheryl, a Perham High School graduate who played basketball, volleyball and is talented musically. Bormann did not play basketball at Concordia, instead taking another path into coaching. As a 19 year-old college sophomore, he was invited to be the JV boys coach under legendary coach Bob Torgrimson at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton High School and he jumped at the chance.
Coaching is in Bormann’s DNA, as the grandson of legendary coach Denny Anderson, who coached at Fergus Falls High School and later Moorhead State College. Anderson, along with another Fergus Falls coach, Wally Pearson, started the Otter summer basketball camps in the 70’s, when summer basketball was in its infancy.
Bormann went on to be a graduate assistant coach at Augustana College in Sioux Falls under Coach Tom Billeter where he enjoyed the experience of the team making the Division II National Tournament. In 2008-2011, Bormann continued his coaching journey as the lead assistant coach for Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. In 2011-2012, he was an assistant coach at Jamestown College. He and Cheryl had their first child, Graeme, that year and Bormann realized that all the time away from home on the recruiting trail had to come to an end. “Cheryl has been an outstanding coach’s wife and supporter so I’m truly blessed. She understands my passion for the sport, but it was time for me to turn more of my time to her and our new family,” Bormann says. A good decision, as a second son, Bennett, came along and another Baby Bormann is due in April.
When Coach Haugo left for the Moorhead AD position, Bormann was selected as the new Breckenridge coach. By day, he is a middle school science teacher. Then as the final school bell rings, he heads for the gym where he relishes the basketball experience. “My day just couldn’t end at 3:30 pm, I love the coaching aspect as much as the teaching,” says Bormann. “Teaching and coaching is such a rewarding experience. You can see and feel how you can make an important impact on the development and maturity of your students and players.”
Fully committed, enthusiastic, energetic…these are Coach Bormann’s expectations of his players, but he has exactly the same expectations of himself. “If this is the culture I expect from my kids, I have to live up to those expectations also,” states Bormann. Watching his team practice, it quickly becomes clear that energy and enthusiasm are a staple in developing the hard-nosed in-your-face defense that Coach Bormann is expecting. The practices are fast paced, moving quickly from one activity to another, with pressure defense and up-tempo offense featured in many of the drills. “Pressure defense, many times full court, along with quick transition to offense and pushing the ball up the court will be our style,” noted Bormann. “We have a roster with many athletic players so we will use ball movement and motion to put them into positions to make plays throughout the game.”
The six seniors on this year’s team, Ashton Hegge, Hunter Aigner, Brock Pearson, Jaxton Henning, Erik Manning and Austin Ramos all stopped after practice to talk about last season and this season’s expectations. To a man they all said the state experience was “sweet” and it’s their goal this year to make a return trip. Hegge, who is quiet by nature, said the buzzer beater basket he made to send the team to state was “hard to put in words” but you could see by his shy smile it will be a memory that will stay with him. Asked about what they like about Cowboy basketball, they all stated they enjoy the “press and push” style and it’s clear they accept and actually relish the hard work involved, but also the freedom involved in playing that style. Their one-word description of Coach Bormann? Intense, emotional, fast-paced, vocal, intelligent, a leader.
Coach Bormann gives credit to his assistant coaches, Dick Cordes and Dan Dahlgren, along with previous assistant Tony Bogenreif, for their years of coaching expertise and suggestions in refining the team’s up-tempo style. “Coach Bogenreif played a key role in our program for years; always willing to do what was needed. He had a great rapport with our players and I truly appreciated his contributions in our culture.” Coach Bogenreif accepted an assistant coaching position with the Breckenridge Cowgirl program in the offseason. Cordes has coached basketball in other locations, including a number of years as head coach in Springfield, MN. “Coach Cordes’ impact on our program has been substantial. He does a tremendous job working with our 9th graders to get them acclimated quickly to high school basketball and holding them accountable for doing things the right way,” states Bormann. “He is a true teacher of the game and has contributed in many ways toward building our program.” Dahlgren was the head women’s coach at Wahpeton State College of Science for six years and also coached girls basketball at Breckenridge High School. Dahlgren has a son, Derek, on the Cowboys team. “When the opening on our staff became official this offseason we were fortunate and excited to welcome a coach of Dan’s caliber to our staff. In his short time with our program he has already contributed to developing this year’s team and I look forward to the impact he will continue to have on our program.”
Describing the state experience from the coach’s perspective, Coach Bormann says that first of all it was a great experience for the players to validate all the hard work they had put in to get there. Also, walking out on the University of Minnesota court where greats like Mychal Thompson and Kevin McHale played brought a sense of sharing the history of basketball. The coaching staff and the boys were very proud of the community support they received and Bormann felt the boys represented Breckenridge and their basketball program very well. Finally, he felt the team really belonged there and that their play made their community proud. Coach Bormann summed it up in a word, it was an “awesome” experience for the players, coaches and community.
This season, the Cowboys only have one starter back from last year, Ashton Hegge. But they have a number of other players with significant playing time last year, including Hunter Aigner, Stevin Lipp, Carson Yaggie and Austin Ramos. They also have a number of other athletes coming through the ranks, that will fit into Coach Bormann’s pressure defense and up-tempo offensive style.
As I sat through a practice session for the team, I saw that the players are spot on in their assessment of Coach Bormann. He is clearly energetic, very enthusiastic and definitely vocal. While not afraid to correct the players on the things that need correction, Bormann spends much more time encouraging the players and giving loud and generous affirmations of things well done throughout the practice. He has the players cheering and yelling throughout the drills and keeps everyone involved, true to the “win as one” philosophy. I also made note that Coach Bormann was right about his players, they are quick, very athletic, energetic and having fun with their teammates. I witnessed a real sense of team camaraderie.
The coaches’ practice shirts have “prACTice like a Champion” printed on one side and “Win as One” on the other. Sometimes those are just nice T-shirt catch-phrases, but for the Breckenridge boys basketball squad, it is an already established culture that Coach Bormann looks to steadily enhance throughout this season, and seasons to come.
Come watch the Cowboys play this year, you will see a team ready to “Win as One.”