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Nielsen leads KWL to state tournament

Kimball/White Lake girls’ basketball coach Tacey Nielsen was all smiles Saturday as her team clinched a spot in the Class B girls’ basketball state tournament.

As the first-year coach of the WiLdKats, she accomplished something that eluded her in her time as a high schooler at White Lake, despite averaging 18 points per game and earning Class B second-team all-state honors as a senior.

“It is kind of surreal to watch these kids grow up and have a hand in helping them earn a state tournament appearance,” said Nielsen, who teaches at Kimball High School.

This is the first time the schools have earned a state tournament bid since beginning their co-op in the 2011-12 basketball season. Prior to joining forces in basketball, Kimball’s last state tournament appearance was in 2008, while White Lake had never qualified.

Many of the girls on the team aren’t quite old enough to remember Nielsen’s playing days at White Lake, but they do remember her from her time at Dakota Wesleyan University. As a member of the women’s basketball team. Nielsen finished her career with 1,036 points and helped the Tigers to three NAIA tournament appearances.

Nielsen has spent the last three seasons coaching the girls on her team, two as an assistant before taking over the head position. She said working with her team has been great.

“I was with the team for the previous season, so I knew the personalities of the kids,” Nielsen said. “We have always had expectations from day one and we have always had the goal of making the state championship, and it is amazing to reach that goal.”

If the WiLdKats wish to continue their dreams of winning a state championship, they must first get past No. 3 seed Sanborn Central/Woonsocket in the quarterfinals. The contest begins at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at the Huron Arena.

The teams faced off earlier this season with the Blackhawks coming away with a 66-33 win. Nielsen said her squad did not rebound or shoot well that night.

“That game was a long time ago and I believe both teams have improved since that time,” Nielsen said. “We know that we are outsized. SCW is a very big team and they are very athletic. We are going to have to play our best and use our quickness to our advantage.”

A key player for the WiLdKats is guard Jazmyn Hinker. The senior leads KWL in scoring with 14.1 points per game. Kelli Steffen is the team’s second leading scorer with 8.1 points per game, while Ivy Haines averages 7.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Mary Kroupa is averaging seven points for KWL.

“We know we are not going to be able to get out on the fast break on every possession,” Nielsen said, “so when they get set defensively, we need to be patient and take good shots.”