NEW ULM - The easiest way to avoid getting homesick in college is to feel like you never left home in the first place.
Although Martin Luther College freshmen Alex Anthon and Hannah Hackbarth are over 300 miles from their hometown of Lake Mills, Wis., the duo have felt right at home on the Knights' women's basketball team this season.
After all, adjusting to a brand new college basketball program isn't quite as hard when you get to bring along a teammate that you've been playing with since you were in fifth grade.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
Martin Luther College women’s basketball team freshmen Hannah Hackbarth (left) and Alex Anthon have played a pivotal role in propelling the Knights to an 8-5 overall record and a perfect 3-0 start in Upper Midwest Athletic Conference play. Anthon and Hackbarth were also teammates at Lakeside Lutheran High School in Lake Mills, Wis.
After having first played together on the same traveling basketball team eight years ago, the Lakeside Lutheran High School graduates have developed a chemistry on the court that has helped the Knights get off to one of their best starts in recent history (8-5 overall record, 3-0 in Upper Midwest Athletic Conference play).
"I think we know where each other is going, so we can feel what they're trying to do," Anthon said. "It's difficult to explain."
Having an intuitive understanding of each other's games has given the two a level of trust that has transformed into big plays during games.
"She seems very in control when she has the ball and I can trust that she'll make something happen," Hackbarth said of Anthon.
A recent highlight reel play came on Friday night in MLC's game against Northland, when Hackbarth connected with Anthon for a near full-court pass that Anthon converted for a crowd-pleasing score.
"She's really intense and you can always count on her to make a big play or something if she needs to," Anthon said of Hackbarth.
Both Anthon and Hackbarth have played important roles for the Knights, immediately adjusting to the up-tempo style of play at the college level.
"It's not really that much different, because at Lakeside we played pretty fast-paced all the time," Anthon said. "It might be a little more aggressive and stuff, but I don't really think it's much different."
Anthon and Hackbarth both have glittering all-around resumes so far in their freshman campaigns. Anthon is currently the team's second leading scorer with 153 points and ranks in the team's top-five in rebounds (54), assists (21), 3-pointers (eight) and steals (19). Hackbarth leads the team with 10 3-pointers and has top-five totals in points (80) and assists (24) to go with sixth-place totals in rebounds (30) and steals (10).
"I think every single practice we work really hard, so it's really paid off for us in the end," Anthon said.
They have also shown that they can handle playing in close games, helping the Knights win four of their five games that have been decided by seven points or fewer.
"It gets your adrenaline pumping," Hackbarth said.
Despite their ease at adapting to the college game, one adjustment the pair has had to make playing for the Knights has been teaming up with former rivals.
Lakeside has a long-standing athletic rivalry with nearby Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis., which is 15 miles away from Lake Mills (Lake Mills lies on the shore of Rock Lake, directly 30 miles east of Madison and 50 miles west of Milwaukee). The Knights have no fewer than four players from Luther Preparatory currently on the roster - Emily Boldt, Sarah Free, Hannah Rothe and Johannah Crass.
"It was a lot different, because some of those girls we actually played in high school and the other one's we'd heard about because they're from other Lutheran high schools," Hackbarth said. "It's neat to actually get to play with them.
"We've been very blessed. It's just been a fun group of girls to work with."
While the transition to the MLC basketball program has been almost seamless for the two, as for adjusting to the town of New Ulm itself?
"It's a lot like Lake Mills, I think," Anthon said.
While sharing a lot in common on the court, Anthon and Hackbarth also have the same academic interests, having chosen to attend MLC with the goal of becoming teachers.
"I want to share God's word with young children, so this is the perfect college for that," Hackbarth said.
The many other Lakeside graduates at MLC has helped add another slice of home for the pair, but overall Anthon described the campus community as feeling "like a big family," both old faces and new.
"I think the one nice thing about MLC is that you have the same ground base, you have that faith," Hackbarth said. "When you're coming in it's pretty easy to get along with a lot of the people here."
The Knights are currently preparing for a long weekend on the road, taking on Presentation College in Aberdeen, S.D., on Friday and then playing at Minnesota-Morris on Saturday.
While a win against Morris would put MLC on a good pace to contend for the conference title, Anthon and Hackbarth aren't about to get too far ahead of themselves, living their freshman season game by game rather than dreaming about the final chapter.
"Right now we're really just focusing on our weekend games," Anthon said. "We're just trying to take it from there and see how that goes."