Class B girls basketball notebook: Simple approach leads Wessington Springs to winning turnaround
Inside: Corsica-Stickney battles back to the SoDak 16 and Howard is one step from the state tourney again
MITCHELL — The Wessington Springs girls basketball team has provided one of the top turnarounds in Class B this season.
The Spartans have doubled their win total from eight in 2022 to 16 wins this season. Coach Jason Kolousek said it’s the result of a strong Spartan core that has worked hard to get within one game from the state tournament for the first time in 20 years.
“They’ve taken some lumps and worked hard in the offseason and they were very determined to get to this point and beyond,” Kolousek said. “They show up every day. I don’t want to sound too simple but they work hard and when things don’t go well, they just keep playing through it. That’s all you can ask for.”
Kolousek said some members of the team have been playing on varsity since the eighth grade, and are now cashing in a lot of experience for success on the court. Wessington Springs has won nine games in a row and will have the No. 11 seed when it faces No. 6 Howard at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Huron Arena.
The Spartans advanced with a 66-50 win over Gregory in the Region 5B semifinals, which included 24 points in the first quarter and a 25-11 fourth quarter after the Gorillas pulled within two points before the final period.
“It’s a total team effort and I think we’re very confident,” Kolousek said. “At the beginning of the year, or last year, if we had let a team cut into our lead like we did against (Gregory), we might have been rattled. We have girls that know how to play tough and stay in the game into the fourth quarter.”
On offense, the Spartans’ 6-foot-2 junior center Avery Orth leads the way and draws a lot of attention. She averages 15.7 points per game and nearly 11 rebounds per contest, scoring in double figures in all but three games this season.
Around Orth, the Spartans have a lot of flexibility. Carissa Scheel averages 11.2 points per game and 6.2 rebounds, while Kate Havlik and Kirstie Munsen each average 10 points per game. All of it adds up to an offense that averages more than 54 points per game, which is 11th-best in Class B basketball.
A win against the Tigers would send Wessington Springs to the state tournament for the fourth time in school history.
“It’s very exciting for the whole community,” Kolousek said. “We have a very supportive community, very supportive parents and student body. It’s an exciting time to be around and we have fans that support our teams no matter what, but there’s certainly excitement around the way our team has been winning.”
Howard girls reach Class B state doorstep again
The Howard Tigers girls basketball team is back in a position they’ve become accustomed to in recent seasons, one win away from a state tournament.
In 2020, the Tigers advanced through the SoDak 16 as a No. 5 seed, but had their state tournament journey cut short by COVID-19. Then, just last season, Howard was the No. 14 seed and was defeated in the state tournament qualifying round by No. 3 Wall.
Getting back to the SoDak 16 this season after coming up short was a major goal for the Tigers this season, who are determined to get back to the state tournament for the second time in four seasons.
“We had this feeling coming in with a high level of confidence in the fact that last year we got to the SoDak 16 and brought back the majority of that team,” said Howard head coach Wade Erickson. “From Day 1, the girls have been bought in and totally expecting to get back to that game and then see if we can go one further … and then get three more (in the state tournament) after that.”
This season, Howard is back as the No. 6 seed and standing in the path to a state tournament berth is another Mitchell-area program, No. 11 Wessington Springs, with the contest to be played at the Huron Arena at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The Tigers enter the contest at 18-4 — including a 4-0 record in neutral site games — while the Spartans are 16-6.
Having faced the SoDak 16 last year, Erickson feels his team benefited from that experience will now face the challenge with a veteran starting lineup that features four seniors and one junior.
“Last year, we were a little young when we got into that big game and then tightened up and didn’t play well,” Erickson explained. “It means a lot to have the leadership and confidence with a group that has played in big games throughout their career.”
Two of the players included in that group are the formidable frontcourt duo of Kate Connor and Abby Aslesen. The pair of 6-footers create a lineup that is difficult for most other Class B outfits to contend with, coupled with an all-senior starting backcourt headlined by the program’s all-time assists leader, Trinity Palmquist, alongside Canyon Kidd and Rylee Rudebusch.
For the season, Aslesen leads the Tigers in scoring at 16.2 points and rebounding at 9.9 rebounds per outing, with Connor not far behind at 15.3 points and 7.1 rebounds.
“It gives us the opportunity to send one to the high post and one low and then if the other team doesn’t have two bigs, they have to pick which one to defend,” Erickson said. “Plus, we can move them both outside and they can shoot the 3, so it really helps us.”
Jaguars battle back from tough start
After a 4-7 start to the season that saw their star player missing time, things weren’t looking great for the preseason No. 2-ranked team in Class B, Corsica-Stickney.
But just over a month later, the Jaguars are back in the SoDak 16 as the No. 15 seed, winners of four straight and nine of their last 10. The best win of those was knocking off region No. 1 seed Andes Central/Dakota Christian, 45-38, at the Corn Palace in the Region 5B semifinals.
Early in the season, University of South Dakota commit Avery Broughton wasn’t playing while recovering from an ACL injury in 2022. And though the Jaguars struggled in her absence, it gave a chance for other, younger players to gain experience, which is proving valuable later in the season, according to coach Lorisa Broughton.
Since coming back, Avery Broughton has been the main source of offense for C-S, averaging 17.4 points per game on 46% shooting from the field. She also gives the Jaguars 8.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.1 blocks and two steals a night.
“She’s just so knowledgeable out there that having her on the floor helps the other girls because she can kind of guide them to where they should be,” Lorisa Broughton said of Avery.
Outside of Broughton, Payton DeLange is second on the team in scoring with 8.8 points a game. But Lorisa Broughton said her team is more a defensive-minded squad, and that the offense has struggled a bit at times this year.
“We know that for us to be in games we have to play good defense,” Lorisa Broughton said. “I think the girls have bought into it.”
The defense is peaking at the right time for Corsica-Stickney, which has limited its opponents to 34 points per game over its winning streak and 34.9 points per contest all season.
Even despite the rocky start, Corsica-Stickney is one win away from making its fifth-straight state tournament.
To improve to 5-0 all-time in SoDak 16 play, though, the Jaguars will need to go through No. 2-seed Ethan, which beat C-S 49-43 in their contest earlier this season and is also 4-0 all-time in the SoDak 16. Last season was also the first time in the last eight years the Rustlers haven’t made the state tournament.
“We knew this year was going to be a little bit more of a reloading year,” Lorisa Broughton said. “And we just kept saying,‘Why not us?’”