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Full Court Press: White River's dynamic duo of guards propels Tigers to fast start

The Mitchell Republic’s weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball in South Dakota.

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White River's Joe Sayler looks for space to put up a shot against Bridgewater-Emery's Sutton Arend during the Hoop City Classic on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic
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WHITE RIVER, S.D. — Year in and year out, White River stands out as one of the most cohesive and talented boys basketball teams in South Dakota.

That’s already the case in 2022-23, and its dynamic guards Joe Sayler and Nicolas Marshall are a major reason why. The Tigers are 6-1, holding the No. 1 ranking in Class B basketball, and both Marshall and Sayler shined at the Hoop City Classic, where the Tigers won a pair of hard-fought games against Bridgewater-Emery and Campbell County (Wyo.)

On Dec. 29 against the Camels, Sayler had 36 points and Marshall added 21, accounting for 57 of the team’s 71 points in the five-point victory. On Dec. 28, Sayler scored 26 points and Marshall scored 20 in a 62-61 win over Bridgewater-Emery.

Together, they provide the scoring punch and the know-how to make White River championship contenders in 2023.

“It started a long time ago,” Sayler said. “We’ve been playing together for a long time and every time we go to the gym, it’s usually with each other. Aside from us, we’ve got two really good shooters that space the floor and it’s a team effort.”

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Sayler, the 6-foot-3 senior guard who has signed to play at South Dakota State, has averaged 29 points apiece for the last two seasons and moved over 2,000 career points earlier this season.

Marshall has moved into a bigger role this year as a 6-foot-1 junior, playing for his father and White River head coach Eldon Marshall and following his older brother Dylan, who graduated last season and is now playing at Dakota State University.

“That’s what’s expected of Joe and Nic,” Eldon Marshall said. “There’s high expectations for them and they work hard to meet them.”

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White River's Nicolas Marshall looks for space to make a pass against Bridgewater-Emery's Ben Weber during the Hoop City Classic on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

Sayler knows he’s going to have physical defense and a lot of attention paid to him when the Tigers are on offense. But he said he knows that opens up chances for his teammates to make plays, as well.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons on our team and guys that can make plays,” he said.

He complimented his fellow guard Marshall for developing a scorer’s mentality in the gym over the offseason. Likewise, Marshall said Sayler’s shot selection and understanding the pace of the game is Sayler’s most improved part of his game.

“There’s no one better to learn from,” Nicolas Marshall said of Sayler. “He makes you better every time you step in the gym.”

Nicolas Marshall added he believes the team is motivated after taking third at the state tournament last season, repeatedly thinking back to the triple-overtime semifinal loss last season to Lower Brule in the semifinals. The Tigers’ only loss was a two-point defeat to Rapid City Christian on the final day of the LNI. Still ahead are three games at the Jones County Invitational in Murdo, starting on Jan. 12, plus the Hanson Classic on Jan. 21 and the DWU Classic on Feb. 11, both at the Corn Palace.

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Eldon Marshall said challenging the Tigers early in the season is a tried and true formula to prepare themselves for March, seeking their first state championship since going back-to-back in 2012 and 2013.

“That’s why we want to play here,” he said after a game at the Hoop City Classic. “We know what we need to work on and I’m sure we’ll figure out more things as we go. I appreciate the guys' efforts and these tests, that’s what you want and that’s what makes you better and prepares you for the long run.”

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White River's Nicolas Marshall finishes a layup during the first half of the boys Class B quarterfinal game against Freeman/Academy Marion on Thursday, Mar. 17, 2022 in Aberdeen.
Mitchell Republic file photo

The loss of a coaching trailblazer

South Dakota basketball received some sad news this week with the death of Jana Jones, the boys basketball coach at Philip. She was 63.

According to the Dakota Radio Group , Jones, a Wall High School alumna, became the first female head coach of a South Dakota boys high school team in 1990 at Midland and later Jones coached in the Midland girls program. She became Philip’s head coach in 2019.

A memorial visitation service will be held on Jan. 8 in Philip.

The Mitchell Republic’s weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball in South Dakota.

Sacred Hoops primer

The run of high school basketball classics at the Corn Palace continues on Saturday with the fourth playing of the Mitchell edition of the Sacred Hoops Classic. In all, nine games are on the slate . Here’s three we’re looking forward to:

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  • Lower Brule boys vs. Parkston, 1:30 p.m.: The Sioux have played an extremely challenging schedule early in the season and Parkston will provide an interesting opponent on Saturday. Lower Brule averages nearly 69 points per game with talented guard Brian LaRoche Jr. leading the way, while Kaleb Weber and Reid Leischner are two of Parkston’s five seniors that have helped the Trojans to a 4-0 start to the season. Parkston faces Vermillion on Friday, Jan. 6, making it a tough back-to-back series of games for Parkston. 
  • Platte-Geddes boys vs. Freeman Academy/Marion, 3 p.m.: Two of the top Mitchell area boys teams tangle at the Corn Palace, but now are in separate classes. Platte-Geddes has played in the last three Class B SoDak 16 rounds, while Freeman Academy/Marion qualified for the state tournament in 2022 in Class B. The Black Panthers move to Class A and look to be firmly in the mix to represent Region 5A in the final 16 this season. 
  • West Central girls vs. Lakota Tech, 7:30 p.m.: It would be surprising if the Class A SoDak 16 takes place in March without these two teams at least having a say on how things unfold. The Trojans played a difficult schedule early in the season, facing Sioux Falls Jefferson, Vermillion and Tea Area by the time they hit the Palace on Saturday. Lakota Tech’s only loss this season came at the Lakota Nation Invitational on Dec. 17, a seven-point loss to No. 5-ranked Red Cloud. The Tatanka already have wins over Wall and White River. 
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Sioux Falls Jefferson's Taylen Ashley drives to the basket against an Orono (Minn.) defender during the Hoop City Classic on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

Three that impressed

  • Sioux Falls Jefferson boys: Yeah, the No. 1 team in Class AA boys basketball is a good team. But the Cavaliers’ win over Orono, Minnesota — a top-five team in a very competitive team in Class 3A across the border — stood out beyond the 63-43 score. That’s because Jefferson held the Spartans to less than 35% shooting and easily scored on offense. Taylen Ashley and Kaden Year each had 15 points and Griffin Wilde and Beau Giblin are key pieces in the Jefferson lineup, which excelled on defense and rebounding. 
  • Viborg-Hurley girls: The Cougars seem to be proving that the championship run of 2022 was not a fluke. They battled with Campbell County in a tight contest at the Pentagon last week, with the Camels standing as one of Wyoming’s top-ranked teams, and then turned around and pounded Wall in the Parkston Classic. Coral Mason scored 29 points against Wall and reached 1,000 points for her career in the victory, and is looking like an early season contender for Class B player of the year. 
  • Hamlin girls: On the strength of its defense and Kami Wadsworth, Hamlin earned a tough win to cap the first month of the season over then-No. 1 St. Thomas More, 39-34. It doesn’t make up for a 22-point loss between the two teams in last year’s Class A title game, but certainly the Chargers can make a rightful claim to the No. 1 spot now. 
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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