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Starting from scratch: How Carol Hammerle laid the foundation for UWGB women's hoops

Carol Hammerle founded the Green Bay women's basketball program in 1973, winning more than 450 career games in her 25 years at the helm.
Carol Hammerle UWGB
Posted at 4:15 PM, Mar 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-04 19:07:10-05

GREEN BAY, Wis. (NBC 26) — When Carol Hammerle founded the UW-Green Bay women's basketball program in 1973, she had to start from scratch.

Less than half players on her first team had played high school basketball.

"My first practice as probably the most eye-opening experience for me," Hammerle said in a one-on-one interview with NBC 26. "I had this whole lesson plan made up for the first practice. Only to realize that - out of the 12 - maybe four had played in high school."

Her first four seasons were losing ones. But in the late 1970s, when the WIAA began sponsoring a girls state tournament, things changed.

"That was the biggest turnaround," Hammerle said. "That was huge."

She admits she thought about hanging it up following the 1976-77 season, when her team went just 4-17.

But the next year Hammerle led the Phoenix to a 14-9 mark, and Green Bay hasn't had a losing season since.

Hammerle continued to grow the program, guiding it through the move to NCAA Division I in the late 1980s.

"I'll be honest with you, there was a huge motivating factor. It was called fear," she said of the move to DI. "Because, you're so successful at one level and now we're Division 1 and how are we going to do?"

She did quite well, leading the Phoenix to their first two NCAA Tournaments in 1994 and 1998.

After that second bid, it was time to move on.

Hammerle took a job with Northern Illinois; current coach Kevin Borseth was hired to replace here.

"Carol had said, when she took the job, she said 'take care of my baby,'" Borseth said. "And it's always been her baby."

"How do you spend 25 years in a career at an institution that you love - and leave?" Hammerle said. "It was difficult. But I knew I was turning it over to the best coach possible."

That's proved true. Borseth and Matt Bollant - who had a five-year run as head coach while Borseth was at Michigan - have combined for 16 NCAA Tournament bids.

"I'd like to think that we've done a good job of upholding her wishes, and the tradition continues to grow," Borseth said.

Meanwhile, Hammerle's legacy lives on.

"They had a shirt that said 'if not for them' and it was for the coaches that initially started women's basketball," Borseth said. "I think Carol's one of those people. If not for her, we wouldn't be in the position that we're in today."

"I just wish I would have known then the impact all this was having on women's basketball and the winning tradition of the Phoenix right now," she smiled.

Hammerle is now retired and living in Arizona, where she teaches pickleball. She still follows the Phoenix closely and plans on watching their Horizon League Tournament quarterfinal game Thursday.

Note: A previous version of this story said the court at the Kress Center is dedicated to Hammerle. That is incorrect. The court is named after Carol Bush, a fan and advocate of UW-Green Bay Athletics whose gift helped fund the Kress Center in 2007.