Mount Vernon/Plankinton heads to Class A tourney with more to prove
“It’s just a good feeling, knowing what kind of work we’ve put in recent years,” senior Mason Hetland said.
MOUNT VERNON, S.D. — The Mount Vernon/Plankinton boys basketball team reaching the Class A state basketball tournament is an accomplishment in any year.
For a proud program with five seniors that had its share of lean years, it’s extra special this time around. The Titans had three losing seasons in a row until a 16-7 season in 2021-22, followed by an 18-5 season to break through to the final eight bracket for the first time since 2017.
“It’s just a good feeling, knowing what kind of work we’ve put in recent years,” senior Mason Hetland said. “This is a good group of guys that is looking forward to getting to play with each other for a few more games.”
The Titans, seeded sixth in the Class A tournament, faces off with No. 3 Sioux Falls Christian (19-4) at 7:45 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinal round at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls.
It’s also looking to do something it has not done in the Class A tournament in 11 years as a co-op: win a game at the state tournament. The Titans made it in 2015, 2016 and 2017 but took eighth place each time.
“It’s a group of kids that’s pretty easy to root for and that puts in the work, so I think everyone here is excited to see what we can do when we get to Sioux Falls,” coach Eric Denning said.
The Titans got to the state tournament with an 82-66 win over Pine Ridge, which was the third time this season MVP cleared 80 points in a game.
“We’ve had some good offensive games this season but it was a game where I was kind of frustrated by how (Pine Ridge) was defending us. And then I looked up late in the game and we were in the high 70s and I said I guess we’re having a pretty good game on offense,” Denning said.
The Titans are sixth in Class A in scoring, averaging 67 points per game and they face the eighth-best scoring offense in Class A in Sioux Falls Christian.
Reed Rus leads the team in scoring with 18.6 points per game, plus 9.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game. Jordan Stoltz averages 12.4 points per game and 3.2 blocks per contest. Zach Baker has 12.3 points per game and Mason Hetland has posted 11.7 points per game. Blaine Bohr, Christopher Mayer, Brady Fox and Dylan Rihanek are among the Titans’ other key contributors.
MVP has won six games in a row entering the state tournament and Stoltz said the team has done a better job of communicating with each other and buying in on defense.
“We’ve played better as a team in the last month of the year,” said the 6-foot-7 Stoltz. “We’ve really tried to emphasize playing as a team and I think it’s shown up on the court.”
The Titans are also eager to finish the season showing they can play with the state’s best squads. MVP had five losses during the season and four of them were by 10-plus points, including to state tournament teams Hamlin by 25 and St. Thomas More by 11.
“We’ve been getting better and closer and closer to getting those wins and we’re going to compete our butts off to give ourselves the best chance we can,” Rus said.
The No. 3-seeded Chargers will be a challenge for MVP, with three scorers in double-figures per game, including Ethan Bruns at 17 points per game, and Britton Mudler and Cole Snyder each averaging 12 points per game. The Chargers shoot 58% as a team and allow only 54 points per game.
“They’re just really solid,” Denning said. “We know we’re going to have to play our best game to beat them because they don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Hetland said they know that MVP won’t be a trendy pick to make a run at state but he believes they can surprise some teams in Sioux Falls.
“We like being under the radar and I think we’ve got something to prove for ourselves,” Hetland said.
“It’s been a lot of fun in the community and with the towns’ supporting us and having the pep rally to send us off,” Rus said. “But really we’re just trying to keep winning games and seeing where it will take us.”