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Full-Court Press: Texas commit Ndjakalenga Mwenetanda eyes a final title at Sioux Falls Washington

Mitchell Republic’s Full Court Press, the weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball in South Dakota

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Sioux Falls Washington's Ndjakalenga Mwenentanda comes down with a rebound in front of Mitchell's Maddie Kempf during a game on Tuesday night at the Corn Palace.
Matt Gade/Mitchell Republic

SIOUX FALLS – The Sioux Falls Washington Warriors sit atop of the Class AA girls basketball standings with two games remaining in the regular season before they make their official playoff run for a second consecutive state title.

Even though they lost Sydni Schetnan due to graduation, a 6-foot-5 center that averaged 15.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in the Warriors title run, Washington hasn't skipped a beat.

Washington is 17-1 this season and has won 13 of its 17 games by at least 10 or more points. The Warriors are led this season by 6-foot-2 forward Ndjakalenga Mwenetanda, who believes the attention she draws from defenses has only made her team more dangerous and will certainly benefit them come postseason time.

“Teams pay more attention to me but as coach (Jamie) Parish says it should be an insult to other players and I agree,” Mwenetanda said. “We have so many versatile players, when they start to pay attention to me more, somebody else is going to be on that night. … Our offense is so versatile that if they double me, we have a back door wide open or a shooter in the corner wide open, which is one thing that is better than last year.”

Outside a six-point win against O’Gorman in the semifinals, no other team came close to beating the Warriors as they won every other game in the playoffs by at least 16 points. In anticipation that repeating for a state title might be more difficult, Washington is making the case that it might not be.

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They started off the season 6-0, winning four of its first six games by at least 20 points. Washington lost its seventh game of the season to O’Gorman 61-52 on Jan. 11 but responded with an 11-game winning streak, which included a 60-46 victory against O’Gorman on Feb. 11.

“Beating O’Gorman felt really good, especially since it was at their place,” Mwenetanda said. “That was my first time winning in the O’Gorman gym and our goal was to be the best by February 14. … Winning that game was huge for us and this is the time of the year that we want to start hitting our stride. We want to play every game going forward how we would play at state.”

Washington has certainly hit its stride, just like last season when they ran off 16 straight wins to earn the state title. Led by Mwenetanda, who averages 18.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game, the Warriors are in prime position to repeat.

Mwenetanda said not only has she had to become even more of a leader with the absence of Schetnan, but she’s had to provide more encouragement to the team. As a team that’s feeling the pressure of repeating as Class AA champions, Mwenetanda said the group has only grown closer as a unit and only worries about what they can ultimately control.

“There is a bit of pressure wanting to win another state title but we just focus every single day on what we can get better at and what we can control,” Mwenetanda said. “Whether that’s in practice, small things inside and outside of school, team dinners or just hanging out together. We control the little things so when that time comes that we play on the big stage like state, we won’t feel as much pressure.”

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Sioux Falls Washington's Ndjakalenga Mwenetandavcomes up with a rebound in front of Mitchell's Lauren Van Overschelde during a game on Tuesday night at the Corn Palace.
Matt Gade/Mitchell Republic

Mwenetanda has felt unique pressure of her own unlike most basketball stars in the state of South Dakota as she approached her decision to officially commit to the University of Texas in August 2021.

Throughout her process of being recruited by at least 30 different programs, she had to rely on the help of her Mom, Tshijuka Mwenetanda who played basketball at Old Dominion, and some of her AAU teammates, who have already committed to the University of Iowa, to help her with a process that became overwhelming. She also contacted her former teammate Schetnan, who plays basketball and volleyball for the University of Louisville, along with Washington alumni Phekran Kong, a 2020 graduate who also plays volleyball at Louisville, for guidance during the process.

Mwenetanda had been dealing with recruiting interest since eighth grade and Washington head coach Jamie Parish said she’s unique in so many ways, especially by the way she leads by example and with her ability to play all five positions on the court. Parish also said Mwenetanda’s biggest improvement that makes her much better than last season is her jump shot.

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“She worked really hard on her jump shot last summer and I don’t know if I’ve seen a kid improve in one summer as much as she has the way she’s shooting the basketball right now,” Parish said. “She could shoot it before but now she’s really stretching the defense and shooting her shot quicker with more consistency. She’s just such a unique kid and she’s not someone you get an opportunity to coach very often.”

Mwenetanda has improved her field goal percentage and 3-point percentage every single season. Her field goal percentage has risen from 53 percent last season to 57 this year. Her 3-point percentage has gone from 22 percent last year to 35 percent this season. She’s also on pace to have the most blocks in a season as a Warrior, as well as steals and assists.

Mwenetanda said at the next level, she wants to be as versatile as possible and during her high school career, she embraces the responsibility in providing whatever the team needs to get the victory.

“Whatever is missing for a game, I try to fill that role,” Mwenetanda said. “Let’s say a certain game, they play zone and we have a good shooter but it’s an off night, then I try and rebound more. Let’s say defensively one of the key players is in foul trouble, then I’ll step up defensively.”

Honor roll

Girls top performers

  • De Smet’s Kennadi Buchholz had 27 points and 11 rebounds to help the Class B No. 2 Bulldogs win their seventh straight game on Monday in Canistota.
  • Mount Vernon/Plankinton’s Emilee Fox scored a game-high 26 points as the Titans took down Bon Homme 62-48 on Tuesday.
  • Delanie Van Driel notched a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double in Scotland’s 55-44 win on Tuesday against Canistota.
  • Avery Broughton recorded 18 points and 10 rebounds as Class B No. 4 Corsica Stickney won a wire-to-wire victory over Tripp-Delmont/Armour on Tuesday.
  • Ethan’s Ava Lingemann had 21 points and five steals as the Rustlers took down Freeman 64-43 on Tuesday in Freeman. Kate Miller had a 12-point, 14-rebound double-double in the loss.
  • Hanson’s Annalyse Weber was her team’s leading scorer with 21 points as Hanson beat Chamberlain 52-34 in Chamberlain on Thursday. Mya Knippling posted 20 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks for the Cubs in the loss.
  • Ashtyn Wobig scored 24 points and added six rebounds in McCook Central/Montrose’s 62-42 win against Madison on Thursday night. Zoey Garry picked up a double-double in the loss for Madison, scoring 20 points and snatching 10 rebounds.
  • Denae Mach notched a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds as Viborg-Hurley outlasted Howard in Howard by a score of 47-39 on Thursday. Teammate Coral Mason had 11 points and 13 rebounds for Viborg-Hurley in the win as well.
  • Bella Swedlund recorded 28 points and nine rebounds for the Warriors as Winner defeated Mobridge-Pollock 63-48 on Friday in Mobridge.
  • Kimball/White Lake’s Ryann Nielsen paced the Wildkats with 26 points and 11 rebounds in a 66-15 win against Colome on Friday.

Boys top performers

  • Winner’s Blake Volmer had 16 points and 13 rebounds in the Warriors 54-50 overtime win against Platte-Geddes on Tuesday. Caden Foxley also had 17 points and 14 rebounds in the loss.
  • Howard’s Kolt Koepsell notched a 18-point and 16-rebound double-double in the Tigers 49-42 in at Canistota on Tuesday.
  • Riley Endres scored 21 points, along with five rebounds in Ethan’s 77-42 win against Freeman on Tuesday evening. Teammate Jay Storm scored 20 points and added three steals in the win.
  • Jordan Stoltz recorded 22 points, six rebounds and five blocks, powered by a 10-for-12 shooting night, in Mount Vernon/Plankinton’s 62-40 victory over Bon Homme on Tuesday. Teammate Reed Rus nearly tallied a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the Titans win.
  • Burke’s Ben Witt exploded for 26 points and five rebounds as the Cougars took down Colome 76-56 on Tuesday. Jaden Frank also recorded 21 points, along with eight steals in the win.
  • On Thursday, Burke’s Bryce Frank put up a game-high 28 points with three assists to lead the Cougars to a 68-60 overtime win against Wagner.
  • Gregory’s Daniel Mitchell posted a 24-point, 18-rebound double-double in a 60-54 win over Bon Homme on Friday. Riley Rothschadl led the Cavaliers with 20 points in the loss.
  • Mason Schelske’s near-triple-double of 27 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists powered Wessington Springs past James Valley Christian 71-61 on Friday night.

Three games to watch this week

Keep an eye on these games over the next few days:

  • Class AA foes end the regular season with a test against one another as No. 4-ranked Mitchell travels to No. 2-ranked O’Gorman. O’Gorman only has two losses this season, both at the hands of Sioux Falls Roosvelt and one of the games was decided by one-point. Mitchell also took Roosevelt to the final possession as the Kernels also had a one-point loss to the Rough Riders. The last time Mitchell beat O’Gorman was February 18, 2020. Caden Hinker led the way for the Kernels with 33 points and nine rebounds.
  • Two top-five teams in their respective classes face off Monday, Feb. 21 as boys Class A No. 4-ranked Sioux Valley hosts Class B No. 4-ranked Lower Brule. Sioux Valley is 14-5 this season and even though the Cossacks have lost two of their last three games, they haven’t lost at home once this season. Sioux Valley is coming off a one-point loss to Sioux Falls Christian on Saturday. Lower Brule is 17-2 this season and is currently on a four-game winning streak. Lower Brule only has one loss in 2022, that came on Feb. 10 against Lakota Tech.
  • Two of the hottest teams in Class B girls basketball collide on Tuesday, Feb. 22 in the Region 2B tournament. Lower Brule, which has won nine of its last 10 games, travels to Highmore-Harrold, which has won nine of its last 11 games entering the playoffs.
Branden is a sports reporter that graduated from Purdue University Northwest with a bachelor's degree in communications and a focus in journalism. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 and covers prep and collegiate athletics. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Full-Court Press, providing a weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball throughout all of South Dakota. Branden can be reached at bhull@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @bhullreports.
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