Starting with familiar quarterfinal foe, Howard girls basketball aims to ‘finish it’ in Class B
“We know when our last game is going to be. Hopefully now we can relax, play our game and have fun,” said Howard coach Wade Erickson. “We have to give everything we’ve got and see where it lands.”
HOWARD, S.D. — When Howard’s current class of seniors were freshmen, the Tigers qualified for the state basketball tournament for the first time in 25 years.
Then, after one day of play, COVID-19 shut everything down.
Kate Connor and her senior teammates haven’t forgotten that experience, and now, three years later, the Tigers are back and excited about the opportunity in front of them.
“It means so much to get back. Back in 2020, Wade (Erickson, Howard’s head coach) kept telling us that we had three more games. Well, he was lying,” Connor said with a laugh.
“This is all we thought about last year after getting beat in the SoDak 16,” Connor continued. “We knew we had to do something this year, especially with five returning starters and four seniors.”
That journey took Howard through a top-heavy Region 3B to the No. 6 seed in the Class B postseason with an 18-4 record. In the SoDak 16 round, the Tigers blitzed Wessington Springs early and never looked back, rolling to a 61-40 win that stamped the Tigers’ tournament ticket.
The team that lies ahead in the state quarterfinals is as familiar as they are formidable, with Howard drawing No. 3-seed Viborg-Hurley on Thursday night at the Huron Arena. As the defending state champion, the Cougars and their 25 consecutive victories against Class B opposition are about as strong a 3-seed as there could possibly be.
On the final night of the regular season, the Tigers visited the reigning champs. While Viborg-Hurley pulled away late for a 50-33 win, the contest was a two-point game after three quarters.
“We played a good game, but we didn’t finish it,” Connor said. “We’re ready to finish it and leave it all out on the court.”
Though the Tigers were white-hot from 3-point range in the SoDak 16 round, a potential quarterfinal upset likely starts inside with Connor making up half of Howard’s 6-foot interior duo alongside junior Abby Aslesen.
Aslesen averages 16 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while Connor adds 14.9 points and 6.9 rebounds. Senior guard Trinity Palmquist and Rylee Rudebusch each contribute 5.4 points per game, with Palmquist, the program’s all-time assist leader, dishing out 3.7 assists per game. Canyon Kidd rounds out the Tigers’ veteran starting lineup, but it doesn’t stop there, evidenced by freshman Dakota Spader coming off the bench to score 11 points in the SoDak 16.
“It’s going to be a great matchup, we always seem to play them hard,” Erickson said. “We’re going to bring everything we’ve got. … The pressure has to be on them as the defending state champs.”
In borrowing from their successful SoDak 16 recipe, Connor hopes to see the Tigers come out with the same intensity that drove them to a 33-7 halftime lead over Wessington Springs. Additionally, Erickson wants his team to display a similar composure when dealing with a large, passionate crowd like it experienced in the SoDak 16 as well as utilize their size to take care of the rebounding battle.
“Starting the game with a bang, that’s definitely what we need to do,” Connor said. “And that’s repeatable because we know we have the skill to play our best game, every game.”
Another advantage Howard might have is familiarity with the venue. The Tigers play in the Huron Holiday Classic annually and played their SoDak 16 contest at the Huron Arena, as well.
“We were really excited we got the Huron Arena (in the SoDak 16),” Connor said. “We have a feel for the court from playing a classic here each year, so we’re excited for the opportunity.”
Barring another unprecedented circumstance, Erickson can once again assure his team of three more games, and he believes there’s a certain confidence that can be drawn from that knowledge.
“At this point, we know when our last game is going to be. Hopefully now we can relax, play our game, play comfortable and have fun,” Erickson said. “We have to give everything we’ve got and see where it lands.”