A national championship helped make The Daily Republic's top sports story of 2018 an easy choice.
The Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball team dominated the NAIA Division II women's basketball tournament in March, captivating basketball fans in Mitchell and around the state. The Tigers won five games in six days - each by double-digits - and finished with a 32-6 record. The championship was DWU's first national title in any NAIA team sport.
DWU completed the dream season with an 82-59 victory over second-ranked and Great Plains Athletic Conference foe Concordia (Neb.) in the title game. The Bulldogs had won the three earlier matchups during the season. DWU drained 15 3-pointers in the championship and led by as many as 30 points, finishing with the largest margin of victory in an NAIA Division II women's title game in 17 years. Led by coach Jason Christensen, the Tigers also beat No. 1 seeds in the quarterfinal, semifinal and championship games. Christensen was the national coach of the year, and both Christensen and the Tigers were recognized earlier this month as the top college women's team and coach in South Dakota in 2018 by the state's sportswriters' association.
Alexandria native Kynedi Cheeseman was named the tournament's MVP. Senior Ashley Bray was named an NAIA Division II women's basketball first-team All-American, while twin sister Amber Bray was named to the honorable mention list.
2. Canova wins amateur baseball title
The love of baseball in Canova rivals any other town in South Dakota. And in 2018, their community's club paid that back.
Representing the small town in Miner County, the Gang (21-5) claimed its first Class B state championship since 2009 and its fifth championship overall with a 10-2 win over Cornbelt League rival Flandreau on Aug. 12. Canova's offense produced 58 runs and recorded 10 or more runs four times during the 12-day tournament at Augustana University's Ronken Field. Canova pitcher Trey Krier was the MVP of the tournament.
3. Nine-man football dominance
Three Mitchell area football teams-Colome, Canistota/Freeman and Bon Homme-capped off dominant 2018 campaigns with state championships at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.
Finishing the season as the only undefeated team in South Dakota, Colome (12-0) won a wild Class 9B championship game over Sully Buttes, emerging victorious 48-42 in overtime in the DakotaDome on Nov. 9. Canistota/Freeman (11-1) won the Class 9A state championship over Howard, their first as a co-op, and Bon Homme (11-1) ended a 23-year championship drought with a 35-20 win over Kimball/White Lake in the Class 9AA championship, in which they rallied from a 20-0 hole.
4. Hutmacher ascends as state's top wrestler
The legend of Chamberlain's Nash Hutmacher only grew in 2018. For the second straight season, Hutmacher went undefeated at 285 pounds in Class A wrestling with a 46-0 record, highlighted by a highly anticipated, title-match victory over Nick Casperson, of Beresford/Alcester-Hudson, to cap his sophomore season. Hutmacher is approaching 100 consecutive high school matches won in a row. The interest in Hutmacher, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound lineman on the football field, only grew as well, with interest swelling among Big 10 football programs like Wisconsin and Nebraska.
5. Miller, Jackrabbits march to top of Summit once more
Mitchell native Macy Miller continued her dazzling collegiate career with the South Dakota State University women's basketball team.
The junior in 2017-18 returned from a torn ACL the prior season to earn Summit League player of the year honors and lead the Jackrabbits to the Summit League women's basketball championship title. Miller averaged 18.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game. She shot 50.3 percent from the field and 45.1 percent from 3-point range. SDSU beat South Dakota 65-50 in the Summit League final - avenging a pair of regular-season losses - and Miller was named tournament MVP.
After missing the NCAAs in 2017, the Jackrabbits won the Summit League tournament championship for the eighth time and earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, but dropped an overtime contest to Villanova in the first round.
6. Rew, Mitchell high school gymnastics
Marked by another balanced and talented lineup, The Mitchell High School gymnastics team took home another Class AA state championship in 2018. The Kernels, led by coach Audra Rew, won their six state championship and sixth Eastern South Dakota Conference title.
Mitchell has also won state titles in 2007, 2008, 2014, 2015, and 2016. In June, Rew received the national coach of the year award as awarded by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.
7. Haring wins third Class AA high jump title
Mitchell High School standout Carly Haring jumped into the record books in 2018.
In May, Haring won her second consecutive and third Class AA state high jump title. She won the state title with a leap of 5 feet, 5 inches. Haring entered the event with the top mark at 5-8, which is the Mitchell High School record and among the top-10 in state history. Haring, who is a senior this season, will defend her state title in May. Haring has signed to high jump for the University of South Dakota collegiately.
8. Mitchell boys basketball ends 42-game losing streak
Lugging a dreaded streak with them throughout the 2017-18 season, the Mitchell High School boys basketball team ended a 42-game losing streak in its season finale in February at the Corn Palace.
Carter Cavanaugh hit a layup with 1.5 seconds left to lift the Kernels to a 47-45 win over Pierre to snap the streak. Pierre's Peyton Zabel almost spoiled the win when he caught the ball and shot it in midair with four Kernel defenders in the vicinity. The ball hit around the rim three times and bounced out, giving Mitchell its first Eastern South Dakota Conference win in 32 tries and snapping a 23-game home losing streak.
9. New turf at Joe Quintal Field
A long-talked about amenity for Mitchell's football stadium, artificial turf finally arrived in 2018. Coupled with the replacement of the stadium's track, the new artificial surface made sharing the stadium between Mitchell High School and Dakota Wesleyan University much easier for coming years. Prior to the upgrade, Joe Quintal Field was the last in the Great Plains Athletic Conference to have natural grass and now joins a growing majority of teams in the Eastern South Dakota Conference with artificial turf.
10. Six-man football coming in 2019
One of the year's top sports stories is sure to be a big story in the coming year, as well, as the South Dakota High School Activities Association approved the addition of six-man football in 2019.
The association's board of directors approved the division for small schools with a male-only average daily membership of 40 or less. At the time it was approved in June, officials with the SDHSAA said there were as many as 40 schools interested in playing the six-man style, but as of the end of 2018, it's not quite clear how exactly the new division-which will replace Class 9B-will shake up.