Mitchell area coach, athletes earn SDSA awards
Three individuals who transitioned into a new phase of life -- two all-time coaching greats who retired and an athlete who retired and became a coach -- highlight the honorees as the South Dakota Sportswriters Association presents its 2014 Year-E...
Three individuals who transitioned into a new phase of life - two all-time coaching greats who retired and an athlete who retired and became a coach - highlight the honorees as the South Dakota Sportswriters Association presents its 2014 Year-End Awards.
A top athlete, coach and team were selected in boys' and girls' prep and men's and women's collegiate categories. Honorees also include top male and female "independent" athletes, an "independent" team and the state's sports celebrity of the year. Honorees are chosen by members of the SDSWA.
Among Mitchell-area honorees were former Parkston girls basketball coach Rob Van Laecken, former Kernel and South Dakota State University freshman Macy Miller, Howard senior Luke Loudenburg and Wagner native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln standout wrestler Robert Kokesh.
Here is a look at each winner:
Becky Hammon, Celebrity: After announcing her retirement at the end of the season as a professional basketball player after 16 years in the WNBA and other professional leagues around the globe, Rapid City's Becky Hammon made sports history.
The Rapid City Stevens product became the first full-time, paid female assistant coach in any American men's professional sports league when she was hired by the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
"I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said in a statement. "Having observed her working with our team this past season, I'm confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs."
Robert Kokesh, Independent Male Athlete: As Nebraska's Robert Kokesh battled on the wrestling mat to get to the placing rounds and repeat as an All-American, he felt a pop in his knee. He wrestled through it, and threw the matches to follow to finish fourth in the nation at 174 pounds.
That "pop," as you can imagine, was his ACL. What followed, Kokesh said, was tougher than wrestling with a torn ACL.
"It's one of the hardest things I've had to overcome," said the Wagner native. "It was even harder than wrestling on a torn ACL."
Both of his losses in the 2014 NCAA Tournament came to conference rival and fellow South Dakotan Logan Storley, a Webster graduate. Kokesh had beaten Storley to win the Big Ten Championship, his first collegiate league title.
Kokesh has bounced back from his injury and is off to another great start, a 15-0 record and the top ranking in the latest national polls. For his career, Kokesh is 120-14, including a 37-3 record in 2013-14. The senior ranks seventh all-time in career victories at Nebraska.
In Nebraska duals, Kokesh is 51-4, including an undefeated record in duals last season and a 5-0 start in duals this year.
Kim Kaufman, Independent Female Athlete:
The small-town kid from Clark definitely hit the big time in 2014, enjoying success as a 23-year-old rookie on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour.
Playing in only 19 Tour events, Kim Kaufman still finished 58th on the money list with earnings of $275,273 and collected her LPGA Tour card for 2015.
Among the highlights included three top 10 finishes - tying for fourth in the North Texas Shootout in May, tying for fifth in the Canadian Women's Open in Augusta and tying for ninth in the Yokohama Tire Classic in September.
She also played in her first LPGA Tour major - the Women's British Open - and closed out her season by playing in four LPGA events in Asia (Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan).
Aberdeen Swim Club, Independent Team: The Aberdeen Swim Club won its first South Dakota Long Course State Championship since 1982 this past July in Mitchell.
To win the state title, Aberdeen used 55 swimmers from ages 7-18 who won 43 individual state titles and eight relay titles and set 10 state meet records and five overall meet records. The Aberdeen team had 22 members win at least one state title.
Luke Loudenburg, Prep Boys Athlete: Heading into his final football season with the Howard Tigers, Luke Loudenburg was missing one thing -- a state championship.
The 5-foot-5, 150-pound senior fullback not only got his state title, but a collection of records to go along with it.
Loudenburg finished his career with 6,806 rushing yards and 108 touchdowns. His rushing mark topped Hanson's Jim Williams' record of 6,010 yards. Loudenburg's 108 touchdowns surpassed Garretson's Joe Evenson's record of 92 career rushing touchdowns.
In Loudenburg's senior season, he had 200 carriers for 2,685 yards, 53 rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown and 3,299 all-purpose yards, en route to helping the Tigers to a 12-0 record and the Class 9A state title. He was also named Joe Robbie Most Valuable Player and Outstanding Back in the 2014 Class 9A state championship.
"This year couldn't have been a better year for me," Loudenburg said. "There's no way I would go back and try to redo anything I did in the last four years. I'm completely satisfied with the career I had at Howard, and there are definitely no regrets."
In the spring when Loudenburg was a junior, he earned his third straight state wrestling title. He beat Philip Area's Rance Johnson 9-3 in the 138-pound final.
Larry Luitjens, Prep Boys Coach: Larry Luitjens retired from 43 years of coaching basketball so he could watch some more basketball. That is, watching his granddaughters play the game in Colorado.
Luitjens retired last March as the state's all-time winningest coach with 748 victories and seven state championships, winning two in DeSmet in 1970 and '71 and five more in Custer in 1990, '92, '93, '98 and 2002. His Custer teams from 1989-91 also hold the Class A state record for consecutive wins with 49.
In his final game with the Wildcats, Custer fell to St. Thomas More 58-50 in the Region 8A championship. The Wildcats finished 15-7 last season.
"Every year as a coach when you lose that last game, you always say, that's it, I'm done," Luitjens said after his final game against St. Thomas More. "Well, this year I really am. I'm done."
Aberdeen Central wrestling, Prep Boys Team: Aberdeen Central captured its first state wrestling championship in March.
The Golden Eagles, who now co-op with Aberdeen Roncalli in wrestling, won the team title with 177.50 points. Pierre finished second with 147.50 points. Aberdeen Central also claimed a share in the Eastern South Dakota Conference title for the first time since 2010 and just the fourth time overall.
John Frisco was Central's lone individual state champion last season. Central finished first in seven of the nine tournaments it wrestled in last season, and posted a 11-3 dual record.
Macy Miller, Prep Girls Athlete: Macy Miller's senior season was one for the books.
The Mitchell High School graduate averaged 30.7 points, eight rebounds, 3.7 assists, five steals and 1.4 blocks per game for the Kernels, who finished 23-2 and 16-0 in the Eastern South Dakota Conference. She led Mitchell to its third straight state title game appearance.
In total, Miller broke eight Kernel girls basketball records during her final season. She holds the marks for points in a game (49), season (768) and career (1,921), as well as steals in a season (197) and career (294). She also has the school's standard for field goals (269) and free throws made (213) in a season. She made 92.2 percent or 213-of-231 of her free throw attempts, breaking the Mitchell school record.
She toppled the Class AA record for scoring in a game with 49 points against state tournament qualifier Spearfish. At the Class AA state tournament in March, Miller scored 103 points in three games, easily surpassing the previous best of 81 points. With her final basket as a Kernel, Miller scored her 768th point of the season, giving her the South Dakota record for scoring in a season for all three classes.
Miller, who joined the SDSU women's basketball team in the fall, earned a spot as the starting point guard. She averaged 11.2 points per game while shooting 43.8 percent of her shots from the floor in the Jackrabbits' first 10 games.
Rob Van Laecken, Prep Girls Coach: Former Parkston High School coach Rob Van Laecken put together an impressive career and became the winningest high school girls basketball coach in South Dakota.
Van Laecken submitted his retirement papers to the Parkston School Board, which was effective at the end of March.
From 1977 to 2014, Van Laecken coached Parkston basketball, where he accrued 593 wins. Van Laecken serves on the basketball advisory board and was honored as the Athletic Director of the Year in 1996 and 1997.
"I've enjoyed all of the student athletes who've gone through here," Van Laecken told The Daily Republic in March. "I've enjoyed the coaches we've had here. We've been fortunate to have really good student athletes. They're not only special on the field or court but in the classroom. It's been a lot of good times and memories."
Warner volleyball, Prep Girls Team: Warner continued its dominance in Class B volleyball with another state championship this past November.
The Monarchs won their third straight Class B state volleyball title with a 3-1 win over Chester Area at Golden Eagles Arena in Aberdeen. Warner finished this past season with a 34-1 record.
Zach Zenner, College Men's Athlete: Jackrabbit running back Zach Zenner took care of business on and off the field.
He ran for 2,019 yards -- becoming the first player in Division I history to top 2,000 three times -- and 22 touchdowns while adding 28 receptions for 331 yards with four scores as a senior.
He broke the Missouri Valley Football Conference single-season record for all-purpose yards (2,350), touchdowns (26) and points (158).
Zenner broke the league rushing record with 2,044 yards as a sophomore and added 2,015 as a junior. His 2012 mark was surpassed by Illinois State's Marshaun Coprich this year, but Zenner still has three of the top four seasons in MVFC history.
He earned multiple All-America honors three years in a row and was a three-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award, finishing sixth this season.
Zenner shattered a handful of MVFC career records: rushing yards (6,548), all-purpose yards (8,211), touchdowns (69), rushing touchdowns (61) and points (416). His rushing total was 11 yards off the FCS record.
Zenner is the third player in NCAA history to rush for 2,000 yards in three separate seasons, and the second to do it in consecutive years.
Dave Gottsleben, College Men's Coach: Dave Gottsleben had won conference titles at the Division I level, but the veteran men's track coach at the University of South Dakota did even better in 2014.
His squads swept the Summit League track and field crowns.
Gottsleben, who enters his 31st season with the Coyotes in 2015, guided USD to its second consecutive Summit League indoor championship and later to the program's first outdoor conference title since 2006.
At the league's indoor championship in March, the Coyote men repeated as conference champions. Gottsleben was named Coach of the Year, while Jeff Mettler was named Men's Track Championship MVP after winning two individual events.
Two months later, the Coyote men tied North Dakota State for the Summit League outdoor title, their first-ever at the Division I level. USD previously won a North Central Conference outdoor title in 2006, back in the D-II days.
Augustana baseball, College Men's Team: The Augustana baseball team enjoyed immediate success under coach Tim Huber when he took over the team in 2009, but a championship trophy eluded them. That finally changed in 2014.
One year after having set a program record for wins in a season, the Vikings repeated that feat and added to it by winning the NSIC conference tournament on their home field to earn a berth at the Division II regional playoffs. It was the second conference championship in Augie history, but the first as members of the NSIC and the first that granted them an automatic postseason berth.
The Vikings, who featured Alexandria native and pitcher Tyson Gau, earned it in impressive fashion, coming back from down 3-0 to beat Winona State 4-3 in the title game, their 40th win of the season.
Emily Grove, College Women's Athlete: A year after watching teammate Bethany Firsick win a national outdoor pole vault, Emily Grove nearly did the same thing in the indoor season.
After a pair of seventh-place finishes in two previous national meets, Grove took second at the NCAA Division I Indoor Championships in March to capture her third All-American honor.
After winning Grove set a personal best with a jump of 14 feet, 9.5 inches during the indoor season and later got seventh at the national meet with a 14-7.25.
She went on to finish sixth in the USA Track & Field (USATF) Indoor Championships and was later named Women's Indoor Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Amy Williams, College Women's Coach: University of South Dakota women's basketball coach Amy Williams and her players made noise around the state in March.
USD knocked off Summit League Tournament favorite South Dakota State and went on to win the Summit League crown.
Williams' team went on to compete in the NCAA Tournament, where it fell in the first round.
SDSU soccer, College Women's Team: The South Dakota State Jackrabbit soccer team didn't rebuild, but rather reloaded, after losing three starters from a team that finished second in the Summit League in 2013 with a 6-1 record (11-5-2 overall) and lost to North Dakota State in the semifinals of the Summit League Tournament.
Granted, this year's record wasn't as gaudy as the Jacks finished with a 10-8-2 mark, but the 2014 squad posted a 5-2-1 league record to win the regular-season Summit title, and then, SDSU earned the Summit's automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.
The Jackrabbits lost 2-0 to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
-- Source: South Dakota Sportswriters Association