WINNER-The welcome home celebration on Sunday for the Class A girls basketball state champion Winner Warriors started and ended the same way-with a standing ovation.
In between the claps featured speeches from coaches Larry Aaker and Jaime Keiser, the eight seniors and a few community members. By the end, it was hard to find a dry eye.
"It's all about these girls," Aaker said. "All season long, they put in the effort. They did everything I asked for them and as a coach, you can't ask any more from them. To cap it off with a state championship is just unbelievable."
Winner took down West Central, 60-53, on Saturday in the state championship game in Sioux Falls. It's the Warriors first girls basketball state title.
Aaker started the speeches in front of a crowd which made up the entire first level of the Winner Armory. With the state championship trophy sitting on a table next to him, and the team on one side and the statisticians and managers on the other, Aaker tried to hold back tears as he praised his seniors for "accepting their roles."
"To have eight of them stick together for five years says something about them," he said. "It doesn't happen very often. It tells you what type of leaders they are. Their leadership skills are top-notch."
However, just like every player did after, he also joked and reminisced about their season and state tournament experience.
Senior Gabriel Kocer, who scored 21 points in the championship game, was the first player to speak as she stepped up to the podium already teary-eyed. Later on, Kocer got up to grab towels for her and Abby Marts to wipe away their tears.
"I don't think you can find a team closer team than this one," Kocer said after the celebration. "From freshman to senior, we're all so close. It's really going to be hard moving on from this team, but (the seniors) are going to be back to watch all these girls."
The team highlighted their love of being Warriors and the countless hours of work they put in the practice gym.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with my free time now," Kocer joked.
They also shared stories about making snow cones in the hotel room, sleeping with their medals on, as well as some players speaking about listening to the song that carried the team's motto for the season: "Whatever It Takes" by Imagine Dragons on the way back from Sioux Falls. The team returned to Winner at 2 p.m. Sunday.
And while the community showed gratitude for the team's courtesy off the court-and excellence on it-the Warriors also emphasized mutual respect.
"They've been a great community all year long," Aaker said. "Every game, they pack the stands and they travel well. I really appreciate everyone in this community and you can see how much support we have by how much support we have tonight."