Winner’s defense guides it past Tri-Valley, into Class A state tourney

Warriors clamp down on Mustangs for third straight berth to Class A tournament

Winner's Kalla Bertram, left, drives to the hoop against Tri-Valley's Paige Jewett during a Class A SoDak 16 game on Thursday in Wagner. (Jeremy Karll / Republic)

WAGNER -- The feeling doesn’t get old, even after the third time for the Winner girls basketball team.

Winner punched its third consecutive trip to the state tournament on Thursday, with a 50-35 win over Tri-Valley in the Class A SoDak 16 at Wagner High School. It’s also the Warriors’ 20th victory of the season.

“It’s a wonderful feeling. It doesn’t get old, I know that,” Winner coach Larry Aaker said. “It took a lot of work, which it should. Give credit to Tri-Valley. We knew we had our work cut out for us.”

Winner’s (20-2) full-court press forced cross-court passes, which were easily intercepted, and quickly flipped the momentum after the Mustangs (13-10) took an early 5-2 lead. Once Winner’s shots started to fall, it could speed up the pace and set up its press, holding Tri-Valley to a season-low 35 points.


Winner's Kelsey Sachtjen, left, goes up for a shot against Tri-Valley's Kaitlyn Mohnen during a Class A SoDak 16 game on Thursday in Wagner. (Jeremy Karll / Republic)

The Warriors’ press played a crucial role in their game-clinching run midway through the third quarter. Tri-Valley went on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to 31-26, but it didn’t score the rest of the quarter. Stretching into the fourth quarter, Winner went on a 10-0 run, with Kalla Bertram and Bella Swedlund scoring the first eight points.

“We were able to dribble and kick-out,” Bertram said. “A lot of the 3s were open. We started making shots in the third quarter, which was great for us.”

Winner has only been held under 50 points once this season, but the Mustangs’ slow-pace tempo held its offense in check at times. Even as Swedlund scored 24 points and Bertram added 15 points, the Warriors struggled to connect on open 3s and missed layups for stretches.

Meanwhile, Tri-Valley relied early on second-chance points. It was tied 9-9 after the first quarter, and Winner led 28-19 at the half.

“We’re so used to run-and-gun, and go, and kick and drive and shoot,” Swedlund said. “We don’t use the shot clock, in a good way. ... They definitely slowed us down and took us out of our game for a couple of minutes, but I think we really adjusted well.”
It made Winner’s defensive effort even more important. On a rare occasion, Tri-Valley leaked behind the press for an open layup, but the majority of its shot attempts were contested from all over the court. It gave its offense time to search for answers.

“They really tried to slow the game down, and I give them credit, they did,” Swedlund said. “... Definitely when our offense wasn’t clicking, it helped our defense was right there.”

And when its offense found a rhythm, Winner put the finishing touches on a 15-point victory. It enters the state tournament on March 11-13 in Watertown on a seven-game win streak.


“It almost brings tears to my eyes after how everything ended last year,” Swedlund said. “When I was younger, we lost in regions. My freshman year, last year and this year (we made state). It’s really a good feeling.”

TV 9 19 26 35

W 9 28 37 50

What To Read Next
Lieber poured in a game-high 29 points, including 17 in the first half in the win.
Prep basketball action from around the state for Monday, Feb. 6.
Members Only
Sizing up the GPAC playoff picture with four games to go in the season
Three classes maintained identical top fives compared to last week, as only one new team entered the rankings across all six classes.