State basketball tournament takeaways: Ethan, Wall poised for repeat runs in girls Class B
Inside: Hamlin and Wagner look to reload in girls Class A, Dakota Valley's parallels with De Smet in chasing boys Class A three-peat and the ESD's strong showing at boys Class AA.
MITCHELL — With the end of prep basketball season, one can't help but look back at the state tournaments and wonder how that action might impact the season that's still more than eight months away.
After all, it's never too early to talk about basketball in South Dakota.
Here are four takeaways from this year's tournaments:
They’ll (most likely) be back
Consider this an early alert to watch out for Ethan and Wall in girls Class B next season.
Wall, the tournament runner-up, and Ethan, the fourth-place finisher, are both slated to bring back their top contributors from this season’s postseason runs.
For Wall, all three of their all-tournament honorees — Nora Dinger, Paige Kjerstad and Rhea Tucker — were juniors on a roster that loses two seniors.
Likewise, Ethan loses two seniors but has all-tournament selection Ava Lingemann alongside three more starters — Madeline Bartscher, Marissa Storm and Ella Pollreisz — set to come back next season. The Rustlers were under the radar to start 2022-23 but that doesn't look likely to happen again next season.
Meanwhile, two-time defending Class B champion Viborg-Hurley and third-place Wolsey-Wessington, the other Friday-night semifinal session participants, will have some major gaps to fill due to graduation. The same can be said for the other tournament qualifiers from Castlewood, Jones County, Howard and Sully Buttes, too.
At least for now, it appears the Eagles and Rustlers have a head start on the field for 2023-24.
Don’t be surprised
Girls Class A champion Hamlin and runner-up Wagner lose key contributors from their 2022-23 runs, but both have pieces in place to navigate their way back to the top.
The Chargers have already proven they can carry success over year-to-year by making three-straight title games, but this season will likely be their toughest test yet. Three starters — Class A player of the year Kami Wadsworth, all-tournament honoree Brooklyn Brandriet and Ally Abraham — were seniors.
However, freshman Addison Neuendorf was also an all-tournament selection and junior Marissa Bawdon is one of four seniors-to-be that could help carry on Hamlin’s recent run.
Similarly, Wagner loses three full-time starters in Emma Yost, Shalayne Nagel and Eve Zephier. But the Red Raiders are also set to bring back top-end talent in freshman all-state first-team selection Ashlyn Koupal and guards Macy Koupal, a junior, and Lydia Yost, a sophomore.
So despite the changes, the list of championship contenders in 2024 can start with both the Chargers and Red Raiders
Follow the blueprint
A second-straight Class A state championship capped quite a two-year run for the Dakota Valley boys basketball program. With back-to-back 26-0 seasons and a third-place game win in 2021, the Panthers will enter next season on a Class A record 53-game win streak.
One doesn’t have to look far to draw parallels between the Panthers’ situation and another top South Dakota program.
Entering this season, De Smet was aiming for a third-straight Class B championship, but had lost a considerable amount of talent in the graduating class of 2022, marked by South Dakota State’s Kalen Garry and Dakota Wesleyan’s Rett Osthus.
Returning, though, was big man Damon Wilkinson, who helped guide the Bulldogs to the three-peat in Aberdeen last week alongside a talented group that slid into the starting lineup.
For Dakota Valley, a seven-man senior class headlined by University of South Dakota-bound Isaac Bruns and DWU commit Randy Rosenquist Jr. departs the program. But among the Panthers’ returners is 6-foot-7 center Jaxson Wingert, who averaged 15 points and seven rebounds per game this season.
It’s a solid starting point for the 2023-24 Panthers to build from as they chase further South Dakota prep basketball glory.
ESD pushes back
In the constant power struggle between the Eastern South Dakota Conference and Metro Athletic Conference, the ESD put together the strongest possible showing at the boys Class AA tournament.
Yankton and Mitchell knocked off the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds — Sioux Falls Jefferson and Lincoln — in the semifinals to create an all-ESD championship. In the quarterfinals, Yankton also defeated Sioux Falls Washington.
In the consolation bracket, Pierre and Harrisburg defeated Sioux Falls Roosevelt and Washington to set up a fifth-place contest between ESD foes where Pierre took down Harrisburg, which has membership in both conferences.
It was as strong a showing for the ESD since at least 2018 when Yankton defeated Harrisburg for the state title. For the last championship decided between exclusively ESD programs, one must go back to 2008 when Watertown topped Mitchell.
Perhaps this year's performances provided an example of what it takes for the ESD to be successful against the Metro in postseason play. Even if it was a one-year reprieve, it was a breath of fresh air for Class AA to see some new faces in the championship game.