Top-seeded Wolsey-Wessington seeks to join rare club of title winners in state tourney debut
The last time a Class B team won the girls basketball title in their state tournament debut was Mitchell Christian in 2006.
HURON — Approaching 50 years of state girls basketball tournaments, it's becoming increasingly rare to see teams making their first state tournament appearances with each passing season.
It’s even more uncommon to see that initial breakthrough come as a high seed, but that’s exactly what Wolsey-Wessington has accomplished this season.
On the strength of an 18-2 regular season, the Warbirds edged defending champion Viborg-Hurley and Ethan for pole position in the Class B postseason. While the seeding might have come as a bit of a shock, being one of the eight teams left standing was not for the program.
“We set some pretty high goals for ourselves this season and one was to compete for a state championship,” said coach Josh McGillvrey. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re blessed to be here, but the job isn’t done yet. We want to prove it to a lot of people in the state here this weekend.”
“At the beginning, we were just working toward (a state tournament bid),” added senior forward Mya Boomsma, who posted 14 points and six rebounds in Thursday’s quarterfinal. “But as we kept improving, I think it became expected for us to make the state tournament.”
Now, with four postseason wins added to its total, Wolsey-Wessington (22-2) is a state semifinalist and two wins from a state championship as a tournament debutant.
That club is an exclusive one.
Since 1975, the first year of state girls basketball tournaments in South Dakota, 13 programs have won state championships in their first state tournament appearance, which includes the initial Class A and Class B champions. Of those 13, seven have come in Class B, though just two since 1995. The most recent was Mitchell Christian in 2006, 17 seasons ago. (Of note, Wolsey won the title on its own in 1977 in their first try, just the third year of sanctioned girls basketball state titles.)
The Warbirds’ position is an interesting one. On one hand, there’s the expectation that comes with playing with the No. 1 next to your name. On the other, with no prior experience to live up to, Wolsey-Wessington is actively writing school history while playing just 16 miles from its home gym, in the Huron Arena where the Warbirds are now 3-0 this season.
“Being the No. 1 seed, everyone is out to get you,” Boomsma said. “We have the mindset that everyone is going to play their best game against us and we just need to keep pushing back, no matter what.”
Through the first half and then some of Thursday’s state quarterfinal against eighth-seeded Jones County, Wolsey-Wessington looked a little nervy, the most notable side effect of which was a flurry of turnovers (20 total, 13 in the first half).
But as the game wore on, the Warbirds’ six-person rotation featuring four seniors and two juniors settled in and played like veterans, propelling them into the semifinals with a 53-42 win.
It was an encouraging finish, one that Wolsey-Wessington will look to draw from as they prepare to face off with No. 5 Wall at 6 p.m. Friday for a spot in Saturday night’s championship.
“We said we weren’t going to be nervous, but that’s easier said than done,” McGillvrey said. “You’re going to go through some struggles like we did a few times (in the quarterfinal). We just need to stay composed, trust each other and good things will happen.”