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'Brothers' on and off the court, Winner boys basketball heating up in Class A

"They're yelling at each other, and as soon as that timeout breaks, they ... say, ‘We got this,’" Winner's coach said. "That's something special when you have a group that can do that.”

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Winner's Aiden Barfuss sets up for a 3-point shot against St. Thomas More during a boys Hanson Classic high school basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Zech Lambert / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — One glance at the Winner boys basketball roster, and at least one name from the Warriors' football program or Winner/Colome baseball team is almost certain to jump out.

Of the 16 players on the roster, 11 play either on the football team or on the Winner/Colome American Legion and spring baseball teams, with Aiden Barfuss and Ethan Bartels playing on both.

Despite so much overlap between football and baseball — two teams which finished as runners up in 2022 — there isn’t any added pressure to finish the job on the court.

“They always have a fire,” head coach Brett Gardner said when asked if his team came in with any extra motivation. “We talk about one game in front of us. The biggest game is the game in front of you.”

The bond between the teammates is tight. Barfuss calls them his “brothers,” and said they're a group of best friends that loves to hangout and often goes out to dinner with each other. Gardner recalled a snow day when the team texted in a group chat, wishing they could get to the gym with one another.

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But being brothers brings with it some bickering at times, and that showed up during the Warriors’ 51-46 win over St. Thomas More at the boys Hanson Classic on Saturday.

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Winner's Ethan Bartels takes a 3-point shot against St. Thomas More during a high school boys basketball game at the Hoop City Classic on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Zech Lambert / Mitchell Republic

“We said that at halftime about being brothers, they’re going to yell at each other and they hold each other accountable. I love it,” Gardner said. “During some timeouts, they're yelling at each other, and as soon as that timeout breaks, they look at each other and say, ‘We got this.’ And that's something special when you have a group that can do that.”

That group of brothers is starting to heat up on the court, too. Prior to their contest against Todd County, the Warriors are 9-1 with their only loss coming to Class AA foe Pierre, and they sit as the de facto No. 6 team in Class A in the Jan. 23 edition of the South Dakota Prep Media basketball poll, receiving the most votes of any team not in the top-five for the class.

Shots are starting to fall for the Warriors offensively, but they’re more focused on the other end of the court and getting stops more than anything else.

“We’re a defensive team,” Barfuss said. “We can shoot the ball too. We haven't really shown it throughout the beginning of the year, our first couple games were a little rusty. But now we're starting to shoot the ball pretty good.”

Blake Volmer is the embodiment of Winner’s defense. The 6-foot-3, senior captain just cracked 1,000 career points in the win over the Cavaliers, but his coach said Volmer, who holds offers from Morningside, Black Hills State University and others, is more known for his defense than his scoring.

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Winner's Blake Volmer dishes off a pass as he drives into the lane against St. Thomas More during a boys Hanson Classic high school basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Zech Lambert / Mitchell Republic

“He thrives and strives because he wants to be the best defensive player in the state,” Gardner said of Volmer. “And arguably, he’s up there.”

After a trip to the state tournament last season that resulted in a first-round defeat to eventual runner-up Sioux Valley, the Warriors, who are 12th overall in Class A seed points entering Tuesday, Jan. 24's action, are looking to improve as this season goes on in hopes of not only getting back to the state tournament, but capitalizing on their defensive prowess to get further this time around.

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“We knew that Class A was going to be loaded this year,” Gardner said. “Other teams might do more offense, more things to get the points up on the board. We're one that we're going to hold teams, hopefully, below their average and get after them and then finish with the rebound.”

Zech Lambert is a sports reporter for the Mitchell Republic. He graduated from Penn State University in May 2022 and began at the Mitchell Republic in July 2022. He can be reached at zlambert@mitchellrepublic.com or on Twitter @Zech_Lambert.
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