There's nothing difficult about making free throws, Hannah Thiele says.
Just look at the rim, find your spot on the hoop, take three dribbles and shoot.
“It's not that complicated,” she said.
Thiele (pronounced Teal) and her sisters know what they're talking about. They've been dominating their age groups for years at the Knights of Columbus free-throw shooting competitions.
Haley, a sophomore at Wahoo Neumann, has won four state free throw titles and was the first in the family to win the nation's top prize in 2010. She beat shooters from the other 49 states by making 24 of 25 shots at the state competition.
She's now retired from free-throw shooting competition, but is a two-year starter for the Cavaliers. She averaged about 15 points this season, and shot 80 percent on free throws.
Hannah, an eighth-grader, won the top national prize last year, going 25 of 25. She's made 63 of 65 in competition this year heading into the state finals at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Hastings College.
Their fifth-grade sister, Lindsey, placed first in the country last year. She got knocked out in regionals this year, making 21 of 22, but qualified for the national finals in the Elks National Hoop Shoot, which will be held April 20 in Springfield, Mass.
Lauren, in third grade, is in her first year of competition. She'll join Hannah at Sunday's competition.
Even 4-year-old Brooke practices with a small ball and low hoop.
“I just love the sport and practicing,” Hannah said.
That's the secret.
The three middle girls practice at 6:15 a.m. or 9 p.m. three to five times a week from the end of October to May 1. Dad Kevin Thiele said he doesn't have to drag them out of bed, either.
“I've just been around basketball all my life,” said Kevin Thiele, who played in high school at Clearwater and one year at the former Kearney State College. “It's just something we got started with when the girls were younger. I've coached youth basketball for many years. Our kids just picked it up and enjoy it.”
The dad keeps it simple and said his daughters follow the same routine on every shot: They bend their knees, find their rhythm, keep their elbow under the ball and practice proper follow-through.
They usually shoot 150 to 300 shots in the morning before racing home at 7:05 to get ready for school. He estimates they've shot thousands of times over the years.
“They have a reasonable idea of what a proper shot should involve,” Thiele said. “Proper shot mechanics, attention to detail and repetition. That, and a willingness to work their tails off.”
Both Haley and Hannah have made more than 90 in a row at practice.
Sometimes they have off days, and then Hannah said they just keep practicing until they get it right.
“You go back to the hoop and shoot a short shot with one hand to get your form back,” she said. “If you are off, go close up to the hoop.”
Kevin Thiele started doing shooting clinics last fall. The sooner young athletes get started, he said, the fewer bad habits they will have.
His older girls began practicing at age 7 or 8. They started competing around age 9.
Hannah, who also likes golf and volleyball, said she'll be a little nervous Sunday when she tries to add to the family collection, which is kept in a trophy case in the basement.
But she'll just try to block out the pressure, ignore her surroundings and do her best. Just like in the gym at home.
Dad, mom Lisa and the rest of the family will be there cheering.
“It's a lot of fun,” Hannah said.
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