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Q&A: Bradley Standout Haack Discusses NCAA Award Nomination, Returning For A Final Season

210831 Gabi Haack zoom screen.jpg
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Bradley University women's basketball standout Gabi Haack is the Missouri Valley Conference's nominee for the 2021 NCAA Woman of the Year award.

Accolades continue to roll in for Bradley University women’s basketball standout Gabi Haack, who was recently announced as the Missouri Valley Conference’s nominee for the 2021 NCAA Woman of the Year award.

With the fall semester underway, Haack is working on completion of her degree in elementary education, owning a 3.81 cumulative grade-point average and three MVC scholar-athlete honors.

The star guard from Minnesota is also the Braves’ first three-time All-MVC first-team selection, and will be heading into a fifth season of eligibility – awarded by the NCAA after COVID-19 impacted last year’s schedule – needing just 40 points to break Karen Anderson’s Bradley career scoring record of 1,679 points.

Topping it off, Haack will be helping Bradley try to follow up its best season after the Braves won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

Haack recently spoke with WCBU reporter Joe Deacon about the Woman of the Year nomination, her hopes for the year ahead, and being a part of the Bradley community for one more season. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Joe Deacon: What was your reaction when you learned that you'd been chosen as the Missouri Valley Conference’s nominee for NCAA Woman of the Year?

Gabi Haack: Yeah, I was very honored. It's such a great honor to be nominated for that award, and I'm just really thankful for all the people who helped me get here. I wouldn't have been able to do it without my coaches at Bradley, my coaches in the past, my family for always supporting me. So I'm just really thankful.

Obviously, it's a pretty exclusive group with just around 150 nominees across all the divisions and conferences and sports. How rewarding is it for you to be among this group?

Haack: Yeah, it's very rewarding after such a hard year. We went through a lot as a team last year, with COVID and all the uncertainty with the season. So just to end the way that we did and go to the NCAA tournament for the first time, and then just to also cap it off with this nomination, it just really was a great way to end the year. I'm really thankful; there are a lot of really good nominees.

Yeah, as you just mentioned, last year was a pretty remarkable year for the Bradley women's basketball program, with the Valley championship and going to the NCAA tournament for the first time, while also dealing with COVID-19. So when this season arrives, how will you be able to build off what you just accomplished?

Haack: I mean, we are a pretty new team this year; we have eight new faces on our team. But the standard has been set for Bradley basketball. With it being our first time going to the NCAA tournament, we now know that that is something that we can do, and we're going to hold each other to a high standard. We're going to work really hard this season.

We have the same goal that we did last year, which is to go to the NCAA tournament. So we're really going to focus on that and focus on what we can control. This is another season where there is uncertainty, also. So, (it’s) just focusing on being in the moment and not taking anything for granted, but the standard has been set for us and we will have the same goal that we did last year.

NCAA Bradley Texas Basketball
Ricardo B. Brazziell/AP
Bradley guard Gabi Haack (3) drives against Texas guard Celeste Taylor (0) during the second half of a college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament at Strahan Arena in San Marcos, Texas, Monday, March 22, 2021. Texas won 81-62. (AP Photo/Ricardo B. Brazziell)

Individually, you're going into a fifth season – I've seen it called the “super” senior season. So what are your goals or hopes for how you'd like to finish your Bradley career?

Haack: Yeah, I mean I'm really thankful, first off, to have this fifth year. I was kind of joking around that the one positive thing to come out of COVID was having this fifth year. So I'm really thankful to have another year to play the game that I love, with some amazing coaches and being surrounded by such an amazing team, too. First of all, I'm very thankful to also be able to continue my education here and just be able to represent my school for one final season.

I have the same goals: Winning the MVC championship, that's my biggest goal as a team; and then individually, just focusing on my school. This is my final two semesters of my undergrad, and then my next steps after college. But yeah, (it’s) just being the best leader that I can be for my teammates, always being the hardest worker on the floor, and being a role model to those younger girls. Also in my student teaching, (it’s) just being a role model to those kids. So (I’m) just really focusing on my own growth as a leader this year.

And if I'm not mistaken, the program career scoring record is within your reach early in the season. What are your thoughts about what it's going to be like when that moment comes?

Haack: Yeah, that is, I think it was 40 points. So I'm really not too focused on that, because I know it will come with time. But yeah, that is pretty cool to be able to have this fifth year to be able to do that. It'll come with time; I'm not too worried about it.

So, did you contemplate or were you thinking at all of not coming back for a fifth season? What led to your decision to accept the extra year of eligibility?

Haack: I did find out about the fifth year, maybe about a year-ish ago from now, probably a couple months in advance. I was like, “Wow, that's awesome. I should be able to finish my degree.” Because I did have an extra semester that I was going to have to do with my education degree, so I was going to be here anyway. So then, finding out that I can be here and play basketball at the same time was pretty cool. So I think it came down to just finding out what was best for my education, with all the details. I really talked about with my parents and everything, and the best thing for me was to stay here and take my fifth year – and play basketball and finish my degree.

So with this semester beginning, how important is it for you to maintain the high level of academic achievement you've set for yourself?

Haack: It's really important. I do focus on balancing my athletics, academics, and then being a leader and spending time in the community, so it's just really important to me. My parents raised me telling me that school always comes first; you’re a student-athlete, and if you don't work hard in the classroom, you're not going to be able to play on the court. I just always knew from young age, that it is something that I have to prioritize and that it comes first.

Just to be able to get a college degree, I'm so thankful for it because it's not something that everyone gets the chance to do. So I do take a lot of pride in my schoolwork and know that it does come first. I knew that when I got to college that it was going to be a little harder to manage, just because college is a lot different than high school. But I had a lot of resources that helped me, and my coaches helped me, too. Then it just kind of became automatic, being able to balance all of it.

What does it mean for you to be a part of the Bradley community for one more year?

Haack: Yeah, I have a lot of good things to say about Bradley. Honestly, Bradley has given me so many tools and resources, and people that have helped me grow as an individual. I'm a totally different person (from) freshman year than I am now, and that's a big thanks to all the people on this campus. There's so many people that have helped me grow and develop, and have believed in me and are helping me set up my future after basketball. So I only really have good things to say about Bradley and just all of the wonderful people here.

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