CORSICA -- Avery Broughton is used to being the youngest player on the floor.

She started playing basketball in the third and fourth grade division as a first-grader, then made the Corsica-Stickney varsity team as a seventh-grader. When she joins the South Dakota Attack AAU team this summer, she’ll be the only class of 2023 member on the under-16 team.

Broughton has never felt overwhelmed on the basketball court, though. It’s not her personality.

Her older teammates helped her transition to the varsity level, but so did her multitude of skills as a five-position player. There’s not a spot on the floor she prefers, nor is there a position her mother and Corsica-Stickney coach Lorisa Broughton favors on the court for her daughter. She’s an all-purpose player, ready to strike based on matchups.

None of it is a surprise to the ones who watched her grow up around the game. She spends so much time in the gym her parents started to call it her second bedroom. Her family knew she’d excel on the basketball court before she finished elementary school.

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Now after her freshman season, Broughton has surpassed 1,000 career points and has been named The Daily Republic’s girls basketball player of the year for 2020, following a season averaging 20 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.5 blocks and 1.6 steals per game.

“I guess for me, I have always been younger,” said Broughton, a Class B first-team all-state member. “… I have always played up in my division. So being the youngest player isn’t something that’s new to me really.”

Broughton is the first freshman girls basketball player to win The Daily Republic’s player of the year award, which has been awarded to an area standout since 1994 and is selected by the newspaper's sports staff.

Broughton received three of four first-place votes and finished with 19 points. Winner’s Bella Swedlund garnered the other first-place vote and earned 17 points. Kimball/White Lake’s Kennedy Leiferman (11), Howard’s Hilary Albrecht (7), McCook Central/Montrose’s Jacy Pulse (2), Menno’s Morgan Edelman (2) and Mount Vernon/Plankinton’s Emilee Fox (2) all received votes, too.

Dribbling through the house

Lorisa stresses the importance of dribbling to her younger players. So in the Broughton house, that became Avery’s focus.

She would dribble a basketball in the kitchen as her older siblings, Ashley and Preston, tried to knock it away. When her parents coached practice, she’d stand on the sidelines at 3 years old mimicking the older players, developing an evident comfortability with the ball at a young age.

Avery’s favorite part, Lorisa recalls, was when the team would have to run because she’d line up beside them.

“There’s a group of girls that would always laugh and say, ‘We’re going to come back when Avery is in high school and we’re going to come to her practices and holler at her to get on the line,’” Lorisa said. “... They would all say, ‘Just watch, Avery, you’re not going to like that someday.’”

Corsica-Stickney's Avery Broughton poses with her mom/coach Lorisa. Avery is The Daily Republic's girls basketball player of the year. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Corsica-Stickney's Avery Broughton poses with her mom/coach Lorisa. Avery is The Daily Republic's girls basketball player of the year. (Matt Gade / Republic)

It was part of the experience from always being in a gym. The stat girls watched her as a baby during games. Later on, shooting baskets at the school gym and traveling to the Corn Palace to watch Preston star for Dakota Wesleyan University became commonplace. Avery can’t remember a time in her life where she wasn’t bouncing from gym to gym.

By the time she was in fifth or sixth grade, Preston watched her and, “saw her do some things where I didn’t really know if that was normal for girls that age to be doing.” DWU women’s basketball coach Jason Christensen told him, “She’s going to be pretty good.” That opened his eyes.

She soaked in information from her coaching parents, including Corsica-Stickney assistant and her father Jason, and Preston and continued to develop skills good enough to play as a 5-foot-9 lanky seventh-grader. Avery averaged 12.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game during her first varsity season.

“I didn’t know about the physical part at that age and the speed, but for a seventh-grader, she was bigger than most seventh-graders,” Lorisa said. “So I thought that would help her out there. I mainly brought her up because of her ball-handling. It was at a point where we had more forward-type players than guard-players.”

‘She never lets up’

Preston, the Daily Republic’s boys basketball player of the year in 2005 with Corsica, hasn’t given up the title for “Best basketball player in the family.” He doesn’t care how many points Avery scores, or awards she racks up.

She needs to beat him one-on-one. All of the shooting contests and one-on-one games have ended with Preston as the victor and oftentimes dunking on Avery.

“He does not go easy on me. I’ve been dunked on multiple times by him,” Avery said. “It’s really fun, though, because it’s always a good competition. I think I will beat him eventually. Maybe once his knees stop working as well.”

“I like to challenge her. Maybe ground her a little bit,” Preston laughed. “She gets a lot of praise, so I do my best to remind her there’s bigger, stronger players out there.”

For as many times as Preston dunks on his younger sister or blocks her shot, he’s there to help, too. He’s played at the collegiate level, with knowledge of the difference between the speed of the game compared to Class B basketball.

He breaks down film and sends her drills to help her develop new moves. She’s a do-it-all forward, but still desires to improve her left hand and develop a quicker first step.

“I just try to get her to understand how hard she should be playing at all times,” Preston said. “Because if she goes to the next level, you’re not going to be able to rely on your athleticism and size. You’re going to have to rely on your skill because everyone is going to be that big and that fast.”

Avery can assume any role for the Jaguars, from bringing the ball up to posting up to draining 27 3-pointers this season. She and Lorisa point to her versatile teammates allowing Avery to move around the court and positions. It makes her job easier, especially when Lorisa gets the chance to put her on the high post as a decision maker.

It’s allowed Avery to become a double-double threat and amass 1,202 career points, while helping the Jaguars to a 65-7 record over the last three seasons (.903 winning percentage). But it’s not her favorite part about basketball.

“I like to box out, and then jump up and get a rebound,” said Broughton, who has 629 career rebounds and 14 double-doubles this year. “There’s something about it that I always like to rebound and just go. That’s kind of one thing with our team, we like to play fast. We like to rebound and get down the floor.”

Corsica-Stickney's Avery Broughton (34) goes to the basket as White River's Caelyn Valandra-Prue (23) defends during a game in the Hanson Classic on Jan. 20 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Corsica-Stickney's Avery Broughton (34) goes to the basket as White River's Caelyn Valandra-Prue (23) defends during a game in the Hanson Classic on Jan. 20 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Her 5-foot-11 frame running the floor, then exploding with the vertical of a high jumper that took third at the Class B state meet last year is a nightmare for opposing coaches.

“I think the thing that impresses me the most about her is that she plays so hard. She never lets up,” Ethan coach Tom Young said. Broughton had 26 points and 10 rebounds in a win over the Rustlers this season. “She goes to the offensive board. She plays defense. Her whole game is solid. … I think she was the best Class B player this year that we played against.”

Tough endings, bright future

For as much success as Avery has experienced during her first three seasons, heartbreak has become familiar.

As an eighth-grader, De Smet’s Rynn Osthus sprinted down the court to find Kennadi Buchholz for the buzzer-beating layup to send the eventual champion Bulldogs to the Class B state championship game past the Jaguars. This season ended unconventionally due to COVID-19, leaving Broughton feeling incomplete with a sense of emptiness during a 24-0 season that saw the Jaguars advance to the Class B state semifinals for a second straight year.

Losing doesn’t consume her, but it is a source of motivation. Especially after this year.

“With (the De Smet) loss, you gotta, ‘OK, you lost. You got to get over it and play the next game. Focus on the next game. That’s done and over with.’ This is kind of left with a feeling of emptiness, like we needed to finish something,” she said. “... Last year we got to finish and know where we stood. And this year, it’s kind of a huge ‘What if?’”

She believes the Jaguars have the talent to make another deep run, and that’s her main focus. There aren’t individual marks she hopes to hit or a dream school she hopes to get an offer from.

The interest to play at the next level has always been there, though. Colleges started reaching out to Lorisa after her seventh-grade season, and Avery’s received offers from schools ranging from NAIA to Division I.

“It’s really wonderful to have that kind of interest. I’m not trying to focus on it too much at the moment because right now, my goal is that state championship,” Avery said. “After that, I’ll worry about college. I just see it as I’m a freshman right now. I have goals that are going to come first.”

She still has three high school seasons left, and Lorisa wants to make sure she’s able to enjoy it without the pressures of Division I interest. They don’t talk about it a lot, even if it’s always been a goal of hers since she was a kid.

Avery joined the South Dakota Attack to play against better competition over the summer, as a result. Even with the gym closed, she’s still shooting outside in her driveway, lifting at home and focusing on improving her agility.

“She likes to go to the gym, but I will make her do it if she has it on her schedule and something else comes up. I’m like, ‘No, you had it on your schedule. You need to do it first,’” Lorisa said. “There’s been a couple of times she’s like, ‘Well, everyone else is.’ Well, this is what your goal is and I’ll help you get to that goal, but this is what you have to do.”

But for now, all she wants is to bring Corsica-Stickney its first co-op state title.

“(I’m) just focusing on our team and getting better and keep winning like we are,” Broughton said. “That state championship is all that’s on my mind.”

Here's a look at the rest of the award nominees with vote total in parentheses:

Bella Swedlund, Winner (17): A 5-foot-8 sophomore for the 22-0 undefeated Warriors, Swedlund posted 20.3 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. She was in double-figures scoring every game, logged seven double-doubles, had 12 games of 20 points or more, and shot 45 percent from the field, including 37 percent on 3-pointers. She now is at 1,180 points for her career.

Kennedy Leiferman, Kimball/White Lake (11): Leiferman, a 5-foot-11 guard/forward junior, led the WiLdKats in nearly every offensive category, while averaging 19.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per game for KWL, which finished the season 15-8. Now with 1,217 career points, it marks her third straight season of at least 17 points per game.

Hilary Albrecht, Howard (7): Albrecht produced in a big way for the Tigers, who made their first state tournament appearance in 25 years this season. She averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds per game to drive Howard, while also leading the team in steals, free-throw shooting, and minutes played. Howard was 20-4 when the season was halted during the state tournament.

Jacy Pulse, McCook Central/Montrose (2): A 5-foot-8 senior guard, Pulse paced the MCM offense with 18.2 points per game. She was also the team’s leader in 3-point shooting, free throws made, assists and steals.

Morgan Edelman, Menno (2): Edelman averaged 22.7 points per game, marking the second-straight season she has averaged at least 22 points per game. The junior guard broke Menno’s girls basketball scoring record during the season (she now has 1,608 career points), logging 15 games of 20 points or more, and two games with a season-high 33.

Emilee Fox, Mount Vernon/Plankinton (2): Fox, a 5-foot-7 eighth-grader, accounted for about one-third of the Titans scoring in a 15-7 season. She was the team’s leading scorer with more than 17 points per game and was a 38 percent 3-point shooter. She also averaged five rebounds and four assists per game, helping MVP to the SoDak 16 for a second-straight year.

Past award winners: 1994: Erin Olson, Mitchell; 1995: NaTascha Dawson, Howard; 1996: Mandy Koupal, Wagner; 1997: Mandy Koupal, Wagner; 1998: Mandy Koupal, Wagner; 1999: Lacey Johnson, Wessington Springs; 2000: Lacey Johnson, Wessington Springs; 2001: Vanessa Yanes, Wagner (2002 Season Switch); 2003: Jenna Hoffman, Mitchell; 2004: Jeana Hoffman, Mitchell; 2005: Allison Johnson, Mount Vernon; 2006: Jill Young, Mitchell Christian; 2007: Megan Doyle, Hanson; 2008: Terri VerSteeg, Platte-Geddes; 2009: Rhianna Gullickson, Hanson; 2010: Hillary Paulson, Freeman; 2011: Kerri Young, Mitchell; 2012: Kerri Young, Mitchell; 2013: Macy Miller, Mitchell; 2014: Macy Miller, Mitchell; 2015: Myah Selland, Sanborn Central/Woonsocket; 2016: Myah Selland, Sanborn Central/Woonsocket; 2017: Myah Selland, Sanborn Central/Woonsocket; 2018: Morgan Koepsell, McCook Central/Montrose; 2019: Karly Gustafson, Ethan; 2020: Avery Broughton, Corsica-Stickney.