Bradley senior Gabi Haack has good reason to believe that her senior campaign will be her best one yet.
She enters the 2020-21 season as a member of the preseason all-Missouri Valley Conference and will play a key role on a Bradley team that has more expectations than ever before.
But it wasn’t all that long ago that Haack was a preps standout in Elk River, Minnesota. Oddly enough, the successes that Haack has enjoyed at both levels mirror each other closely.
“I started playing basketball in kindergarten. Absolutely loved it,” Haack recalled. “My dad was my coach. And he ended up coaching me all the way up until my eighth grade year. And I played other sports, volleyball, softball, but it wasn’t the same as basketball.”
Haack, who had a small basketball court in her backyard – a lane, as she recalls – simply was not invested in those other sports to the extent that she was in basketball.
“Basketball was always my first love,” Haack said. And I always love going to basketball practice … the other practices, I just did not want to go to them. But I loved every second of basketball.”
Every summer, Haack competed in a shooting and dribbling competition in her hometown. Her rebounder was her father, Dan, who Haack credits as her biggest supporter in basketball.
“He taught me so many skills that I couldn’t have learned like any other way,” Haack said. “ He taught me how to be a hard worker, how to set goals and just everything like that.”
At Elk River High School, Haack’s teams started off slow. A four-year varsity starter, she recalled that the Elks only won about half of their games during her freshman campaign. However, the Elks mounted a run to the sectional final before falling to St. Michael-Albertville in the sectional championship game.
The team continued to improve, winning the conference championship in Haack’s sophomore and junior seasons. But again, St. Michael-Albertville was there to deny Elk River a chance at the state playoffs in the sectional title game. But it was during Haack’s final season as an Elk that the tide finally turned.
The Elks again won the conference and, after a 32-0 season, reigned as Minnesota AAAA state champions. For her contributions to the run, Haack was named Minnesota’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
“So my career is kind of similar to my high school career is kind of similar to college,” Haack said. “Starting [with a .500 winning percentage], and then we just kind of slowly get better.”
Before Haack could contribute toward Bradley’s improving culture, she had to make the decision to attend the school. It was assistant coach Paul Fessler who had a conversation with Haack’s high school head coach, which eventually led to in-person scouting at an AAU game and Haack’s first visit to the Hilltop with her parents.
“When I got here, got to meet all the coaches, got a tour of the campus, got to meet the team,” Haack said. “And I just loved everything about it. The facilities were amazing. The coaches were very nice and personable … Driving home after the visit, I was just talking with my parents and I just like it just kind of feels like a no brainer to go there.”
Haack’s freshman year at Bradley was rather quiet. Haack had a nice campaign, starting 21 of 31 games and averaging 10.4 points per game and a tick under six rebounds. The season resulted in a spot on the MVC all-freshman team. All parties involved will point to the team’s record first, though, and the 13-18 mark that the Braves posted was soon to improve.
Haack’s sophomore season ended with a loss to Illinois State in the MVC tournament – a frustrating loss, said Haack, to a team that Bradley had downed twice in the regular season. But the Braves were proving they were ready to compete with a 20-win season.
“My junior year, I was like, okay, this is like our year to actually do something in the Valley,” Haack said. “And we actually got the win record for the school. And then we were projected, we got that third ranking, which we’ve never gotten ranked that high going into a conference tournament. So last year, going to the tournament I was really pumped.”
Of course, the ongoing pandemic thwarted the Braves’ chance at making a run in the postseason after a 22-7 regular season. But the bitter taste of last season will not serve to stop the Braves from fighting back this year. Bradley returns a solid core and figures to be in the conversation for a conference title yet again.
It’s not just a conversation, either. It is a pursuit that the entire team is focused on.
“I think their perspective is single-focused,” head coach Andrea Gorski said. “It’s win a Missouri Valley championship and that’s what their goal is individually and they’re not going to be happy unless we do that.”
Haack enters her senior season as a member of the MVC’s all-conference preseason team. It’s the first time she’s been tabbed for the preseason honor, but far from the first time she’s been recognized among the conference’s best. Twice an all-MVC first-teamer, she was thrice a Valley player of the week award winner last season.
“It’s deserved,” Gorski said of Haack and fellow honoree Lasha Petree. “I mean, they work extremely hard. They are always in the gym. They love the game, they want to win. They’ve taken a lot of pride in moving this program forward.”
The accolades and expectations only add to a list of memories that have piled up over Haack’s four years on the Hilltop. Haack said beating Drake last season was a particularly fond memory, but not necessarily the best one from her time at Bradley thus far.
“As far as memories, I guess most of my memories are just the time I get to spend with my team,” Haack said. “I’ve been close with all my teammates on all the teams I’ve been on. So all those memories and the friendships I’ve developed is one of the biggest things that stands out to me.”