Last fall the players on the Faith volleyball team said one of their goals was to not only play in the state volleyball tournament — which they did in Rapid City — but qualify for the state basketball tournament.

The Lady Longhorns are two-for-two, as they go into the Class B girls’ state tournament in Aberdeen, which begins today, as the top seed. Faith, one of only two unbeaten teams in the entire state (the Sioux Falls Christian boys are the other team), opens today at 11 a.m. mountain time against Tripp-Delmont/Amour.

As is the case in many smaller communities, the athletes at Faith High School are tight-knit, often competing together since their grade-school days. This group of girls goes back to fourth grade when, even back then, they talked about playing in the state tournament.

“Getting to the volleyball state tournament, I told their coach (Mandy Lemmel) that they have paved the way for us (basketball team),” Faith coach Bryan Carmichael said. “Once they accomplished it and saw that it could be done, I think it helped in the next season as well, knowing that they were capable of achieving that goal.”

Carmichael said they have a group of girls who come to practice every day wanting to get better. He said they want the coaches to push them, which doesn’t always happen.

“When you look at the practice schedule, and no matter what you put on there, they are ready to go and see opportunities to improve. That’s how they attack it,” he said.

Carmichael said another key factor in their success is that there is no jealousy on the team. He said that they are all happy for each other when somebody else play wells.

"They understand that if they all play well, they have a better chance of reaching their goals,” he said.

While the Lady Longhorns are 23-0, their magical season nearly came tumbling down the last time out, as they just got past Kadoka Area 57-55 in the Round of 16 game in Spearfish.

It’s all about surviving and advancing, Carmichael said, and they barely survived. And they have advanced.

“If you look at the other Round of 16 games in the state, a lot of them were those types of games,” he said. “We’re very happy to be one of the eight that are still standing and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do.”

Carmichael has built a strong program in Faith, as this is the second time in the last three seasons the Lady Longhorns have qualified for the state tournament. Several upperclassmen also played in that tournament and know what to expect this time around.

“They can use that to their advantage and be able to help some of the younger girls out who weren’t playing at that time, and let them know what to expect and how to handle it,” Carmichael said.

The Lady Longhorns are led by senior guard/forward Kailyn Groves, who lead the team in scoring (17.2 ppg.) and rebounding (8.7 rpg.).

“She is somebody we look to in crunch time. She accepts that role very well; she wants to be the go-to player,” Carmichael said.

Junior guard Jayden Schoemaker is scoring 12.5 points a game, followed by sophomore Sydnie Schauer (10.4 ppg) and junior Mikency Miller (8.8 ppg).

“Jayden Schoemaker shoots well from behind the arc and takes care of the basketball. Sydnie Schauer is a deep threat who runs the floor very well,” Carmichael said. “We have two forwards — Mikency Miller and Brooke Lemmel — who score a lot of times quietly, but they do a lot of other things, and without them, we wouldn’t be where we are at.”

The Lady Longhorns have a balanced attack, with five different players leading the team in scoring at some point of the season.

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In the Round of 16 game Schoemaker, who had eight 3-pointers in the game before, struggled a bit, but Schauer stepped up and hit five 3-pointers. Faith also had three other players score in double figures.

“I guess that is what makes us a little hard to defend,” he said. “We have several people who can score.”

Tripp-Delmont/Armour is 20-3 on the season and advanced out of the Round of 16 with a 55-50 win over Waubay/Summit.

“We know they are quick. We match up with them size-wise, they don’t have a lot of height,” Carmichael said. “But they are very quick and they can shoot. We know we have our work cut out for us. We will have to play well.”

Carmichael said they beefed up their schedule this season hoping it could help them become one of the top seeds. He said their goal wasn’t to be the top seed, but at least give them a chance to be in the upper tier.

At the same time, Carmichael said he isn’t sure if it makes much of a difference being No. 1, as the tournament is so strong.

“This year, maybe more so than a lot of years, it is pretty wide open. I don’t think our one seed really means anything with all of the good teams,” he said.

If the Lady Longhorns get past Tripp-Delmont/Armour, they’ll face the winner of Warner vs. Castlewood Friday at 5 p.m. A loss puts them against the loser of that game as well.

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Sports Editor

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.