Dierks: For Hamlin girls basketball, a third time really was the charm

After finishing as state runners-up in 2021 and 2022, the Chargers took down the 2023 Class A championship by defeating Wagner in an instant classic on Saturday night in Watertown.

Hamlin head coach Tim Koisti (center right, in blue) hoists the Class A girls basketball state championship trophy and celebrates with his team Saturday, March 11, 2023, at the Watertown Civic Arena.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

WATERTOWN — Following No. 1 Hamlin’s dominant win in the Class A girls basketball semifinals on Friday, head coach Tim Koisti pointed out how difficult it is to make a state championship game.

However, Koisti and company weren’t making their first run at the trophy. Or even their second.

Hamlin was headed into its third-consecutive state title tilt, a stage on which the Chargers had come up just short in back-to-back seasons.

But then, Koisti ended his comments on the matter with an oft-used saying, seemingly in the form of a question.

“Third time is the charm, right?”


But it wasn’t as though Koisti was trying to convince himself or the reporters on hand that his team was primed for a breakthrough. Instead, he offered the candid thought with a tone steeped in conviction, so perhaps it was more of a prophetic statement than wishful thinking.

“Third time is the charm. Right.”

Hamlin's (from left to right) Marissa Bawdon (23), Shayne Fritz (22), Aili Leonardi (21), Kami Wadsworth (20) and Emily Everson (15) celebrate after winning the Class A girls basketball state championship on Saturday, March 11, 2023, at the Watertown Civic Arena.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Koisti’s team attacked this season with a similar spirit. Instead of shying away from the shortcomings of 2021 and 2022, the Chargers leaned into it. They learned from their past experiences, and as a result, it helped drive the program to the Class A mountaintop.

“You have no idea how much work these girls put in alone in the gym with that eating away at them,” Koisti said. “We were so close. Second is amazing, but it hurts a lot, and we talked about it. We’ve already felt that hurt, let’s go see what it feels like to win.”

Nothing came easy for the top-seeded Chargers in Saturday’s title clash with the No. 2 Wagner Red Raiders. But in the end, Koisti’s crew was rewarded with a 58-55 victory, as Hamlin won the Class A championship for the third time in school history and the first since 2005.

In doing so, the Chargers went a perfect 25-0, becoming the first South Dakota girls basketball team to run the table to a state championship since 2019 (Winner, Class A).

As Hamlin cut down the Watertown Civic Arena nets, it completed a redemption arc two years in the making and rounded out a three-season run that saw the Chargers pile up a 70-6 overall record. An added bonus: the program cleared the final hurdle less than 30 miles north-northeast of its home gym in Hayti, playing in front of hundreds of powder blue-clad supporters.

“Those (championship game) losses made us realize we can’t give up,” said senior forward Kami Wadsworth, who is headed to the University of Sioux Falls next year to compete in both basketball and track and field. “There’s a full 32-minute game and we need to fight through to the end, and that’s what we did.”


Hamlin wins its first Class A girls basketball championship since 2005 and the third overall in school history.

Here's another age-old adage: History is written by the victors.

As such, the 2022-23 Hamlin Chargers will be remembered as one of the best teams in South Dakota’s rich history of girls basketball.

Rightfully so, they earned it.

Hamlin tackled a slate of games as difficult as anyone in the entire state and emerged unscathed. The Chargers' opponent win percentage was .630, third across all classes behind only Class B consolation champion Castlewood (.634) and fellow Class A finalist Wagner (.631), both of which Hamlin had to go through on its path to perfection.

“It’s hard to comprehend,” Koisti said of the legacy this year's team will leave. “We loaded our schedule and played as many good teams as we could. Every team we played, these girls came out with an answer and we ended up perfect.”

“It’s not real yet; it hasn’t hit yet,” Wadsworth added. “I’m sure it will over the next week, but right now, it just feels so great.”

Opinion by Landon Dierks
Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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