Q&A with Coach Tauer

Hello again MIAC fans!

The MIAC Media Blog returns today after a brief hiatus. I won't get into all the details now - I'm saving them for a Winter Playoff/Championship wrap-up - but let's just say things did not go smoothly from a technology standpoint at Swimming & Diving over the weekend. I was pretty sure I had the reverse-Midas touch, and anything I came in contact with was inevitably going to break. I bet you can probably guess now why we stopped having photo galleries after the first session...

Anyway, on to bigger and better things. Activity at the MIAC Media Blog is about to REALLY pick up with a new idea I had, that I think will be a great thing for our readers. Today's post is the first in a series of Q&A with the coaches of each of our MIAC Championship teams from this winter. Not only will it help put more of a spotlight on our league champs, but will also help preview our postseason tournaments (which began last night with women's basketball).

The 2012-13 MIAC Men's Basketball Playoffs start tonight (Wednesday, Feb. 20) with a pair of quarterfinal games - No. 6 Saint John's at No. 3 Augsburg and No. 5 Bethel at No. 4 Carleton - while regular-season champ St. Thomas and No. 2-seeded Concordia await the winners in the semifinals. Full details are available on the tournament home page, and fans can follow the action on the MIAC Scoreboard tonight, Friday and Sunday.

As I mentioned, St. Thomas will open the postseason as the No. 1 seed with home-court advantage on Friday. The Tommies aren't just No. 1 in the MIAC, they're also ranked No. 1 in the nation with a remarkable 24-1 overall record and a 19-1 conference mark. John Tauer is in his second season as UST's head coach (interim last year) and already has two MIAC titles, a MIAC Playoff title and a shot at another postseason championship this week.

Coach Tauer was gracious enough to be the first coach up in the rotation of the "MIAC Media Blog Championship Coach Q&A" series, with women's basketball coming tomorrow, the men's hockey co-champs both coming Friday and women's hockey coming next week. We'll also try to get Swimming and Diving next week, and Indoor Track and Field the week after. Here's the first installment of the series with lots of great insights from the St. Thomas coach.

MIAC Media Blog Championship Coach Q&A
John Tauer - St. Thomas Men's Basketball

MIAC: The Tommies were expected to have a good team this year, but how high were your expectations? Did you think you’d be the No. 1-ranked team in the nation or clinch the MIAC regular-season title with two weeks left in the regular season?

St. Thomas Head Coach
John Tauer
(Photo courtesy of
UST Sports Info)
TAUER: Our players have been focused on this season from the day our 2011-12 season ended in the national tournament to eventual national champion UW-Whitewater. We came into the season with a vision for how we would play, trusting that the results would take care of themselves. Last year we were relatively young and inexperienced. This year we have become a veteran and experienced team and we feel confident that we can compete with anyone in the conference and the nation.

To win an eighth consecutive MIAC title is unprecedented, and an accomplishment that current and former players and coaches take a great deal of pride. The MIAC  is a well-balanced league, with solid teams from top to bottom. The schedule is demanding and the coaches throughout the league are excellent. We are thrilled to have clinched the MIAC title.

Being ranked No. 1 is a reflection of how others think, and so while it does not affect anything we do on the court, it is nice recognition of our players and program for a successful season to this point. It also sets the bar high as far as our expectations of ourselves each day in practice. Our players are intrinsically motivated to be the best they can be. Their work ethic in practice each day reflects that motivation.

MIAC: How does this latest MIAC regular season championship feel, and what has made your team so successful throughout the regular season?

TAUER: We are pleased with how we have played through most of the MIAC regular season. Our players have bought into hard work and unselfishness as our calling cards. They move the ball, defend well, and enjoy playing with each other. It's a joy to come to practice and games each day with players who are so committed to winning. Our senior leadership has been invaluable.

Will DeBerg's offensive firepower and improved defense have helped us in many close games throughout the year. Tommy Hannon provides an inside presence that allows us to be balanced on offense and tough inside on defense. Noah Kaiser is as versatile a player as I have seen this year. He can post up, initiate the offense as a point forward, guard multiple positions, all the while leading us in assists and shooting nearly 60 percent from the field.

Drew Mathews is an unsung hero for us, setting an example for all players in our program about hard work, selflessness, and enthusiasm. Drew had hip surgery this summer and went through extensive rehab to be able to have a chance to play again this season with his teammates. Although his minutes are limited, Drew embodies so many of the qualities that are central to our program.

St. Thomas' John Nance
(Photo by Mike Ekern, St. Thomas)
John Nance is one of the top all-around players in Division III basketball. He can score from many areas, passes extremely well, and can defend multiple positions on the floor. John has stepped his defense up dramatically this year. In addition, he has become much more of a vocal leader. In sum, these five seniors, surrounded by a talented group of underclassmen, have worked hard together to get to a 24-1 record in the regular season.

Erik Tengwall has been a two-year starter for us and provides rock solid leadership and a steadying influence on the court. An excellent defender, Erik is strong with the ball, excellent in his decision-making, and respected by his teammates. Marcus Alipate and Conner Nord are two sophomores who are really like starters for us, with Marcus providing ball-handling, excellent shooting, and pressure defense. Zach Riedeman has played significant minutes for us all year off the bench and as a starter and he provides a scoring spark, 50-plus-percent shooting, and passion on both ends of the floor. Josh Pella and Dylan Stewart have provided sparks off the bench, as have two freshmen, Taylor Montero and Cortez Tillman, both playing beyond their years in terms of the maturity of their play.

We are at or near the top of the MIAC in most statistical categories as well as several national categories, reflecting a well-balanced attack. We don't have any players among the scoring leaders or rebounding leaders, yet we have many players who I think could be in those rankings under different circumstances. Our field goal percentage, assists, assist-turnover ratio, 3-point percentage and scoring margin are all among the national leaders. Statistics don't paint the entire picture of a team, but they certainly highlight areas of strength and weakness. I like that we are a well-balanced team that plays up-tempo with many ways to score and many ways to defend the opposition.

MIAC: Compare this team to the National Championship team of 2010-11. Are there any major similarities or differences?

TAUER: Our depth has been one of our hallmarks for the past several seasons. Before suffering several injuries this season, we were playing 12 players in most games. This depth can help wear opponents down, keep us fresh, and protect us from injuries. At one point, we had four of our twelve players in the rotation out yet we continued to play well throughout that stretch. The similarities with the 2011 team include depth, tremendous senior leadership, and a selfless approach to the game.

I also see similarities to our 2008-09 team that went 30-0 and was also ranked No. 1 in the nation before losing to eventual national champion Washington University. In 2009, Lonnie Robinson, Alex McCoy, BJ Viau, and Brett Tuma were seniors. In 2011, Tyler Nicolai, Alex Healy, Teddy Archer, Brady Ervin, and Anders Halvorsen were seniors. Experience, senior leadership, unselfishness, tough defense, and balanced offense are traits of many of the great teams we have had at St. Thomas.

MIAC: It’s your second year as the Tommies head coach after serving as a player and an assistant under Steve Fritz. What have you enjoyed the most about moving into the head coaching role, and has anything surprised you?

TAUER: In the same way that it was an honor to be a player and assistant coach, it has been a thrill for me to serve as head coach at UST. Playing and coaching for Steve Fritz was the best kind of training I could have had in preparation to be a head coach. Steve coached with principles and integrity, and this was reflected in both his record and the way his teams played for over three decades. I said when I took the job that nobody could ever replace Coach Fritz, but that I felt fortunate to have worked with him and learned so much from him. It is an honor to carry on the tradition of excellence in men’s basketball at St. Thomas, a program that I grew up watching as a child when my dad would take me to games, and now over four years as a player and thirteen years as a coach. Steve continues to be a wonderful mentor and friend and I feel fortunate that he is the athletic director at St. Thomas.

One of the biggest challenges of moving into the head coaching role is the management of the program, from budget to travel to assistant coaches. We have an outstanding coaching staff and much of our success is due to our assistant coaches who are tireless in their recruiting, coaching, and game preparation. 

Jim Hayes was a rival of mine at Hamline when we were players in the MIAC, and we coached against each other for many years when he was at Hamline and Carleton. It is Jim’s second season with us at UST and he coaches our half-court defense and coordinates recruiting. Jim has an excellent grasp of the game and his experience in the MIAC is invaluable in both recruiting and game preparation. Jon Hughes is in his 22nd season at UST. Jon coaches our full-court press and assists in game preparation and with our defense and recruiting. Jon started coaching with the JV at UST and his loyalty and dedication to our program and players over the past two decades are appreciated by coaches and players alike.

Don Johnson is in his ninth season with UST and helps in numerous facets of the program, ranging from game preparation to recruiting to offense to travel arrangements to player development. Don is the consummate team player, providing excellent perspective from his years of coaching high school and college basketball. Mike Keating was a star player for us at UST and is in his 2nd season coaching with us. Mike is responsible for film breakdown and also is critical in our game preparation, offense, and recruiting. Mike is an excellent young coach with a bright future. Along with our JV coaches, Tommy Fritz (UST ’98) and BJ Viau (UST ’09), our staff provides our players with growth and development on and off the court. I feel so fortunate to work with each of these coaches on a daily basis – they have made the transition to head coach a smooth one.

I have enjoyed the transition to head coach immensely. It is a new challenge, but at the end of the day, I have always loved team sports whether as a player, an assistant coach, or a head coach. We have a great group of players who put the team above the individual and it is a joy to go to practice each day. I love this job – it fits the old adage that if you find a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. The hours are long, but the rewards and opportunities to help our student-athletes make it well worth it.

MIAC: Look ahead and give us a preview of the 2013 MIAC Men’s Basketball Playoffs. Last year both the No. 5 and 6 seeds advanced to the semifinals, and we were treated to a great overtime championship game between your team and Gustavus. What can fans expect from this season’s postseason tournament?
TAUER: The MIAC is such a well-balanced and competitive league year after year that it goes without saying that the playoffs will be exciting. Last year there was a buzzer beater, upsets, and an overtime game in the finals that we were fortunate to win against a senior-laden Gustavus team. We expect a challenging game Friday night, regardless of the opponent. The third time around always magnifies adjustments and this time of the season always highlights depth and continual improvement over the course of the season.

Some of my fondest memories as a player and coach have come during this week of basketball. The national tournament is a joy to compete in, but there is a level of intensity during conference playoffs when rival teams are playing for the third time that is unique. We are excited to participate in the playoffs this week and look forward to a great crowd on Friday evening at UST!
MIAC: Thanks to Coach Tauer for being the first guest of the MIAC Media Blog Championship Coach Q&A, and good luck to the Tommies and all six teams as the MIAC Men's Basketball Playoffs open tonight. I'll be in attendance at Augsburg tonight, then on my way up to Moorhead for Concordia's women's and men's semifinal games as well, and am excited to see some great basketball and some serious Playoff atmosphere. Who needs March Madness when you've got MIAC Madness?

1 comment:

  1. Great article and a welcomed addition to MIAC publications. Keep it up!
    JC '70 UST


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