HOWARD -- Howard has a rich history in football and wrestling. The Tigers are hungry for the same success in boys basketball.
Howard recently played for a state football title in 2018 and its wrestling program finished sixth last season. Both programs are traditional powers and the boys basketball team is eager for its turn.
“Everybody knows about the Howard wrestling and Howard football programs,” Howard boys basketball coach Nick Koepsell said. “... They are like a machine year after year. They are in the mix for state championships, and we on the boys basketball side, we are trying to keep up with those programs and we think we are making the right steps to get there.”
It’s been a long time coming for the Tigers, who had some lean years that included five total wins from the 2013-14 and 2017-18 seasons. Howard went winless in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
But Koepsell could sense the turnaround coming this season. The Tigers returned everybody from last season’s 7-15 team and added Elk Point-Jefferson junior transfer Sam Aslesen, who averaged 18 points and eight rebounds for the Huskies.
Aslesen joined the Tigers during the summer season as they were successful at team camps and won their division at the Sanford Pentagon League.
“We kind of had an idea of how good we could be,” Koepsell said. “But of course you never know until the season starts.”
So far, so good this season. Howard (7-1) has already equaled last season’s win total and is one of the surprise teams in Class B. But it’s not a surprise when you get a look at the Tigers, who start a big and lengthy lineup.
They start junior Tisyn Spader (6-foot-3), senior Colton Spader (6-2), senior Jake Brooks (6-6), Aslesen (6-5) and sophomore Jace Sifore (6-4). Brooks paces the team with 17.5 points and six rebounds per game. Tisyn Spader averages 15 points, six rebounds and three assists, while shooting 56 percent from the 3-point range. Aslesen stuffs the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. He also draws the defensive assignment of the opposing team’s best offensive player.
“Those are the type of guys we lean to be our leaders and look for them to get the big bucket when we need it,” Koepsell said.
They’re also tough to score on. They have nine total players that are 6-2 or taller and the length is used to their advantage on defense.
“You’ve got the length, but you’ve got to find ways to take advantage of it with the way you play your defense,” Koepsell said. “It’s pretty impressive when you can put that many guys out on the floor that are that big.”
It’s helped the Tigers win their first seven games of the season. They dropped a 52-48 decision against No. 2 De Smet on Tuesday. The Bulldogs pulled away in the second half, but Howard knotted it up with four minutes remaining. However, last year’s state runner-up closed it out.
Despite playing De Smet close, Koepsell said the Tigers aren’t into moral victories and their hunger to maintain the success remains strong.
“We know we can play with those teams,” Koepsell said. “Hopefully the next time we get in a situation where we have a tie ball game with four minutes to go, that we will learn from (Tuesday) and make the winning plays.”
The Tigers are scheduled to play at Baltic today. They have three Cornbelt Conference games next week against Viborg-Hurley, Hanson and Bridgewater-Emery.