Lambert: De Smet cements its historic dominance with third-straight Class B crown

“We’re De Smet. We like to win and we got it done,” junior Tom Aughenbaugh said.

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De Smet's bench celebrates during the Class B boys basketball state championship game against Lower Brule on Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Aberdeen.
Zech Lambert / Mitchell Republic

ABERDEEN — Dynasties aren't supposed to happen in Class B boys basketball.

Prior to last weekend, it had been almost 70 years since a team won three titles in a row in the state's class of smallest schools.

So if there was ever a dynasty in small-school South Dakota boys high school basketball, it'd be what De Smet is doing right now.

The Bulldogs' 62-48 win over Lower Brule on Saturday marked their third state championship in a row, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in Class B since 1946-1948 when Webster won three in a row.

And while winning back-to-back championships is an impressive feat in and of itself, the way De Smet won its third may be the most impressive of all.


More coverage from the Class B boys state tournament
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“If I’m going to buy into my role, I’m going to buy into it 100%,” the senior Brody Riggs said.
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The Bulldogs claimed their third state championship in a row Saturday night.
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The senior has turned into what coach Jeff Gruenhagen called the “focal point” of the offense, after he averaged 21.3 points and 12.6 rebounds per game.
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It was announced at halftime of the Class B boys basketball championship game that Ethan was this year’s recipient of the “Spirit of Six” award.
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“It’s just how we’ve always played,” coach Brian LaRoche Sr. said of his starters. “They know what’s up. They know the mismatches, they read them, they talk. That’s how this thing is designed.”
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De Smet will look to defend its Class B state title against Lower Brule, which is in search of its first state championship in school history. Just 364 days prior, those words rang true as well.

“It's great that they focused in this year to do that with a little bit of weight on their shoulders,” coach Jeff Gruenhagen said. “People kind of overlooked us because of who we graduated and thought, ‘Can we do that again?’”

After last season’s championship, the Bulldogs lost a load of talent, with five seniors graduating, including Division I prospect Kalen Garry. Yet just like the previous two seasons, De Smet didn’t lose to a Class B school again this year.

While Damon Wilkinson was a huge part of the past two championships — he had 19 points and 23 rebounds last year and 18 points and 20 rebounds this year — it was an entirely different supporting cast this season.

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De Smet's Damon Wilkinson backs down Viborg-Hurley's Nick Hanson during a high school boys basketball Class B state quarterfinal game against Faith on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Aberdeen.
Zech Lambert / Mitchell Republic

A new crop of juniors, including Kadyn Fast and Tom Aughenbaugh, were among the players who helped propel the Bulldogs this season, with Fast picking up 10 points and six assists and Aughenbaugh racking up 16 points in the championship.

George Jensen, another junior, had nine points and six rebounds and Kasen Janssen, a senior who had a larger role this season, picked up nine points and nine rebounds.

“We just started clicking right away," Gruenhagen said of the season. "(We) dug in, played some defense, held some good teams to lower scores. And I think a lot of teams we were playing were surprised that we came out and played that well, when they were just thinking they were going to have to just concentrate on Damon."

Another dominant season with such flux in the roster prior to the campaign just adds more proof that the De Smet dynasty is one that extends beyond the dominance of one player or one class. Instead, it shows the Bulldogs’ run is one that will be remembered for years as one of the most consistently dominant stretches by a school across multiple seasons.

“We’re De Smet. We like to win and we got it done,” Aughenbaugh said.


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De Smet's Tom Aughenbaugh takes a 3-point shot during the Class B boys basketball state championship game against Lower Brule on Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Aberdeen.
Zech Lambert / Mitchell Republic

So now the question that looms is what’s stopping the Bulldogs from getting it done for a fourth time in a row next year.

Well, for starters, Wilkinson is graduating. But the Bulldogs return eight juniors from this year’s squad, including three who saw significant minutes in the championship, and if they showed us anything, it’s that a bit of turnover on the roster may not matter as much as it appears.

And if you ask Wilkinson, the fourth championship certainly isn’t a far-fetched idea.

“They’re going to be really good next year,” the senior said. “I’m not going to be cocky, but I’m seeing a four-peat.”

Opinion by Zech Lambert
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 or on Twitter @Zech_Lambert.
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