ARDEN HILLS, Minn. (WCCO) — If there’s one place Alisha Hvistendahl feels like she belongs, it’s here, coaching Bethel.
Her boss says she’s a natural, even though she might be one of the unlikeliest assistant coaches in college basketball.READ MORE: Juneteenth Rises To Surface Of American History In Aftermath Of George Floyd's Murder
Not so much because she never actually played college basketball herself, or because she never even sought out this job.
“It’s not something I was necessarily shooting for,” she said.
It’s because she coaches the men’s team.
“I guess it is a little unique and stuff,” she said.
It’s unknown how many women coach men’s college basketball teams across the NCAA, but it certainly isn’t very many. Hvistendahl says she doesn’t have much of a theory as to why that is, but certainly doesn’t see any good reason.
“I’ve always said from the very beginning, if you think I can bring what the program needs, what the guys need, and what you guys need as a coaching staff, then I’m all in I think I can do it as well,” she said.
Head coach Doug Novak insists she was hired on merit, not for the sake of social progress.
“I want the best coaches available,” he said. “And if it happens to be a woman, it happens to be a woman. But it is no social movement on my part. She is the best, and I hired the best.”READ MORE: 'Bumpy Ride': Minnesota Legislature Continues Special Session Work, As Deadline Before Shutdown Looms
“I would not even want to do it if that was the case,” Hvistendahl said. “If it was more about making a point or a statement or something like that. I think I remember saying to my husband and my sister, like, coach Novak is a great guy, but he would not hire me just to be nice. He cares way too much about the program to make a statement or be nice. And that’s how I know I’m the best person for this position.”
Hvistendahl played high school basketball at Cambridge, but not in college. As a student at Bethel, she chose instead to focus on her studies in the athletic training program. Which oddly enough, is what led to this job.
After several years as the team’s trainer, Novak was so impressed that he started giving her more responsibilities, eventually making her director of basketball operations a couple years ago. And then, when one of his assistants left for a different job this fall, he promoted Hvistendahl again to take his place.
“Nobody in our program thinks it’s a very big deal at all. They just think it’s a natural progression,” Novak said. “The only thing that I ever heard, was somebody had asked me the question – and it wasn’t a mean question and it wasn’t meant to hurt anybody, but I kind of took offense to it – and they said, well, what happens when she’s out talking to a recruit, and they may not look at it the same way that you do? And I said fair enough question. If they don’t like it, they can go to some other school.”
Hvistendahl said she’s experienced no negativity or backlash — not even from opponents – since taking the job.
“So part of me doesn’t really feel like a pioneer,” she said, “Because I haven’t run into many roadblocks from that standpoint.”
Perhaps that’s because it’s worked so well. Bethel has been one of the top teams in the conference all season. It has the No. 2 seed for the MIAC playoffs this week.
Which makes you wonder if perhaps others will take note. After all, she isn’t the first woman to have success coaching men’s basketball.
“(Spurs coach) Greg Popovich has Becky Hammon, as an assistant coach,” Hvistendahl said. “And everybody thinks that’s pretty cool. And no one really like contradicts what Pop says.”MORE NEWS: Minnesota Unemployment Rate Drops To 4% As Businesses Scramble To Hire
So if it’s good enough for Greg Popovich, what’s everybody else waiting for?