No. 1 Hamlin downs No. 2 Wagner, caps undefeated season with Class A girls basketball title
Hamlin wins its first Class A girls basketball championship since 2005 and the third overall in school history.
WATERTOWN — Saturday’s Class A girls basketball championship billing was a classic featuring the clear-cut top-two teams.
No. 1 Hamlin, the immovable object with the tournament’s best defense, met No. 2 Wagner, the unstoppable force with the best offense. And when the two programs collided on the Watertown Civic Arena court, the contest lived up to the buildup.
Wagner pushed Hamlin to the brink, but the No. 1 Chargers held firm one last time, getting a defensive stop on the game's final possession and emerging with a 58-55 win for the program’s first state championship since 2005. In going 25-0, the Chargers are the first South Dakota girls basketball state champion to complete a season undefeated since Winner in Class A in 2018-19.
“We had to dig deep,” said Hamlin head coach Tim Koisti. “We talked about it at halftime, we had 16 minutes and just had to defend for 16 minutes and win those 16 minutes. And we did, just barely, because Wagner is so good.”
Though both programs felt they had their fair share of doubters despite their seeding, the tournament served to prove a point both title game coaches were in agreement on.
“In talking with Coach Koisti before the game, it’s good that the season ended this way,” said Wagner head coach Mike Koupal. “We had the two best going at it and it was a three-point game. We gave everyone in the state something to watch.”
Wagner pulled ahead 20-11 late in the first quarter, but a 15-2 run helped the Chargers take a 34-33 edge into halftime.
Early on, the pace largely favored Wagner, but as the game wore on, Hamlin was able to dictate the tempo and slow the game. As such, it cut down on the Red Raiders’ opportunities, particularly in transition where they thrive.
“When we got misses, we beat them up and down the court. … When we applied pressure and got the ball in our hands, they couldn’t keep up with us,” Koupal said. “We just didn’t get enough of those chances.”
The Chargers stretched their lead to nine points in the third quarter, but the Red Raiders closed the period on a 6-0 spurt to send the game to the fourth trailing 46-43.
Trailing by that same three-point margin with 8.5 seconds remaining, Wagner had the ball in the frontcourt with the opportunity to tie and send the contest to overtime. But as the final 3-point look came up wide of the mark, time expired on the Red Raiders.
“This is a game, you can’t hang your head about anything,” Koupal said. “Somebody’s got to win and somebody’s got to lose. … It’s a hard one to swallow because you work so hard to get here, but we had an awesome season.”
“This year was all about not being satisfied,” added senior guard Shalayne Nagel. “We got here and in this game, we had nothing to lose. It’s not the outcome we wanted, but we gave it all. … We’re runner-up, not many people can say they got second at a state tournament.”
In Koisti’s eyes, his team making the championship-clinching play on defense rather than on offense was a fitting end.
“We work on (defense) every day, preach it every day,” Koisti said. “We knew if it came down to that (defensive stop), we were going to win that battle.”
Kami Wadsworth put up a game-high 17 points and seven rebounds with three steals, while Brooklyn Brandriet dropped in 14 points powered four 3-pointers for Hamlin. Ally Abraham added 12 points and six rebounds, with Marissa Bawdon and Addison Neuendorf rounding out the Chargers' scoring at eight and seven points, respectively. Wadsworth, Brandriet and Neuendorf represented the champions on the all-tournament team.
For Wagner (24-2), Ashlyn Koupal scored 14 points and Emma Yost recorded 13 points, six rebounds and three assists. Shalayne Nagel added 10 points, as Lydia Yost chipped in three 3-pointers for nine points and Macy Koupal contributed seven points. Eve Zephier had two points and three steals. Emma Yost and both Ashlyn and Macy Koupal were named to the all-tournament squad.
“I’m proud of my girls for the way they work and the leaders they are in our community and in our school,” Koupal said. “... These seniors brought back the level of excitement, tenacity and respect for the game when we were missing that for a few years. These girls know how to win.”