Heading into his 17th season as the head coach of the St. Thomas More Cavalier girls’ basketball program, Brandon Kandolin and his squad have the opportunity to do something you don’t see too often.

When the season kicks off Saturday afternoon in Sioux Falls Washington, STM will be searching for its fifth consecutive Class A title and its sixth championship in seven years.

The task itself won’t be easy by any means, but Kandolin and the players have high expectations going in.

“I think we have pretty high expectations,” he said. “We have got a lot of experience coming back and I think near the end of last season, the group we had finishing the games had to grow up in a hurry and that helped them prior to this upcoming season.”

To close out last season, the team had to step up in the absence of Dru Gylten, who had to leave the state title matchup with Lennox due to a knee injury.

It wasn’t easy, but they were able to do just that with a 47-36 overtime victory over the Orioles to seal their fourth straight title.

Although Gylten has since graduated and currently plays for Utah, the team still has depth, led by four returning seniors.

Still, Kandolin knows one of the obstacles facing the team will be getting some of the new players acclimated to the system.

“Learning to play with the new group that’s coming in will be interesting,” he said. “The new girls coming in, how are they going to contribute, how fast will they grow mentally as well as physically.”

Fortunately, the Cavaliers won’t have to worry too much about that with a consistently tough defense to fall back on.

“Another key is to continue to defend,” he added. “We’ve always been a team that prides ourselves on defense. I think a huge reason we’ve had success is because we can shut teams down. Last year we allowed the fewest points combined in the final games of the season. Even when I go back and look at the years prior, we haven’t given up more than 30-something points on average.”

In last season’s state tournament, STM held all three of its opponents under 37 points, including Madison, which only scored 32 while Webster was held to 30.

While the defense has helped lead the team to four straight, Kandolin also feels as though the offense will be a force this year.

“This year I like that we are really well balanced,” he said. “We have good length, we have some physically strong players and I think we’ll be able to score on the inside and outside. We won’t have to just rely on our outside shooting or our inside presence. We’ll be able to score in different ways.”

Leading the way for the Cavaliers this year will be a quartet of seniors, including forward Aislinn Duffy, who took over in the second half of the state title game and scored 14 of her 16 total points after averaging 9.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 1.6 apg during the regular season.

The other leading scorers returning include Jayden Bies, who averaged 11.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg and 1.0 apg, and Klaire Kirsch, who added 9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 2.9 assists.

Along with the addition of senior Natasha Swedlund, Kayla Jacobson rounds out the group of seniors on the team this season.

Kandolin pointed out the importance of the senior leadership on the team and counts on it to be successful.

“We want to rely on the experience and the leadership of the senior group we have,” he said. “With that experience, they have become the leaders and strong individuals and they have developed a strong game and we’ll need to them to step up if we want to be successful. Each one brings something unique and we’ll have to take advantage of that.”

While the team is confident they can get the job done, Kandolin wants to make sure they aren’t undervaluing the experience, especially since they’ve seen a plethora of success over the last few years.

“You always wonder if the mindset will be lackadaisical,” he said. “This group of girls has been to four state championships and you need to teach them that they won’t just get a win for showing up. This will be our strongest schedule and we can easily be 2-4 by New Years.”

As usual, the Cavaliers will also face one of the toughest schedules this season, a task that has helped over the past few seasons.

“The strength of schedule has been a huge advantage for us,” Kandolin said. “We’d rather play tougher teams and learn, and get better come post season.”

Overall, Kandolin understands the target his team has on its back this season and believes they will need to forget the fact that they’ve won four straight and win this one for themselves.

“I think the thing we talk about is, this is a new group and they need to make a statement for themselves,” he said. “Make sure that they aren’t stuck in previous years and they need to make sure that they do it for themselves”

With the season tipping off in just two days, there’s some added excitement as the team goes for something that has only been done twice in the last 34 years (Armour, 1983-87 and Sioux Falls Washington, 1997-2001).

“I’m very excited for the season,” Kandolin said. “Knowing there’s a possibility of winning five in a row and I’m not sure how often that has been done. I’m proud of how hard they worked in the off season and the dedication they've had. Class A will be pretty balanced and there are some good teams out there.”

Western South Dakota boys' and girls' Class A capsules. If your team doesn't appear, the questionnaire wasn't returned to the Journal. Any questionnaires sent after print publication will be added online.


St. Thomas More Cavaliers

Head coach: Dave Hollenbeck, 21st year.

Last season: 18-7 overall.

Returning lettermen: Kale Landguth, 6-4, Sr.; Joe Poeppel, 6-2, Sr.; Jake Bohnenkamp, 5-11, Sr.; Ryder Kirsch, 6-6, So.

Coach’s Quote: “We will need strong senior leadership to be competitive with the loss of our starting five to graduation. We have a whole new group in terms of Varsity experience and we play a very difficult but challenging schedule. We are hoping to be competitive by tournament time. So far I’m pleased with the effort and attitude.”

Red Cloud Crusaders

Head coach: Christian McGhee, sixth year.

Last season: 11-9 overall.

Returning starters: Alejandro Rama, 6-1, Jr., 20 ppg, five apg, six rpg, two spg; Russell Leader Charge, 6-0, Sr., 14 ppg, five rpg, two spg; Jesse Jansen, 6-2, Jr., 10 ppg, three apg, four rpg, two spg; Manuel Yellow Horse, 6-5, Sr., five ppg, five rpg.

Coach’s Quote: “I expect us to be pretty good. We have a talented group that works very hard. We have a mixture of experience with inexperience. If our inexperienced can play up to their potential, we will be right in the mix at the end of the year. It should be a fun season for us.”

Winner Warriors

Head coach: Brett Gardner, fourth year at Winner, sixth overall.

Last season: 12-10 overall.

Returning lettermen: Brandon Volmer, 6-3, Jr.; Shea Connot, 5-11, Jr.; Joren Bruun, 6-0, So., Philip Jorgenson, 6-0, So.; Justus Gregg, 5-11, Sr.; Brady Fritz, Fr.

Coach’s Quote: "We will be inexperienced at the beginning of the year, so our student athletes will have to find their roles. We want to be very solid defensively, and be playing our best basketball come February.”

Hot Springs Bison

Head coach: Aaron Noteboom, sixth year with Hot Springs.

Last season; 15-8 overall.

Returning starters: Thane Lockhart, 5-10, Jr.; Jogan Barndt, 6-5, Jr.; Morgan Harkless, 6-1, Jr.

Returning lettermen: Alex Merchen, 6-0, Sr.; Tyler Winscot, 5-10, Sr.; Kelton Harris, 6-0, Jr.; Matt Norton, 5-10, Jr.; Gage Uhlir, 6-6, Jr.

Coach’s Quote: “As always, we will strive to be competitive in the Black Hills Conference and play solid, fundamental team basketball.”

Hill City Rangers

Head coach: Blake Gardner, 12th year with Hill City.

Last season: 10-11 overall.

Returning starters: Jacob Harris, 6-2, Sr., six ppg, four apg; Chance Simmons, 6-3, Sr., 11.3 ppg; Jac Cutler, 6-1, Sr., 5.5 ppg; Noah Krull, 6-0, Jr., 9.2 ppg, six rpg.

Returning lettermen: Noe Esclante, 5-8, Sr., three ppg; Taylor Edwards, 6-5, Jr., 5.4 ppg; Michael Satter, 6-1, Sr.; Dawson Clemetson, 5-11, Jr.

Coach’s Quote: “We return a solid core group of players that have played a lot of varsity minutes. We will need to find a leader and someone to replace Ryan Skillingstad’s presence on the defensive end of the court and on the boards. The Black Hills Conference will be really good this year with many experienced teams. We think we can be competitive, but we will have to bring our best effort every night.”

Rapid City Christian Comets

Head coach: Kyle Courtney, fourth year with Christian.

Last season: 13-9 overall, lost to Wall in District 14B Championship.

Returning starters: Zane Schlabach, 6-1, Jr., 15.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg; Levi Vanden Bos, 5-9, Jr., 6.6 ppg, 4.1 apg, 2.7 spg; David Schmagel, 5-9, Jr., 6.8 ppg, Jack Roisum, 5-11, 8.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg.

Coach’s Quote: We graduated three seniors from last year’s team. We were very young last year as we had to play a lot of sophomores and freshmen at the varsity level. We do not have any seniors in our program this year, so we will be heavily juniors and sophomores on varsity. What excites me, though, is the experience those players have already had at the varsity level and what I have seen from them in the off-season."

Custer Wildcats

Head coach; Paul Kelley, fourth season with Custer.

Last season: 10-11 overall.

Returning starters: Nolan Patzlaff, 5-8, Jr., 12 ppg; Reed Ashmore, 6-3, Sr., eight ppg.

Returning lettermen: Reese Kelley, 5-11, Jr.; AJ Kortemeyer, 6-3, So.; EJ Gonzalez, 6-1, So.; Isaac Powers, 6-2, So.; Jace Kelley, 5-8, Fr.; Dustyn Fish, 5-11, Fr.; Grant Sullivan, 6-0, Fr.; Daniel Sedlacek, 6-0, Fr.; Kaleb Wragge, 6-0, Fr.; Dathan Elmore, 5-8, Fr.; Kyle Kobza, 6-1, Sr.

Coach’s Quote:  “We will be young and will hope to be competitive when we get to the second half of the season. We do have good leadership in our upper classmen that will be needed with our youth and inexperience.”

Belle Fourche Broncs

Head coach: Clay Pottorff, third season with Belle Fourche.

Last season: 8-13 overall.

Returning starters: Tate Hostetter, 5-9, Jr., 6.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.5 spg.

Returning lettermen: Taten Fox, 5-11, Jr.; Bryce Nicholas, 6-0, Jr.; Kelby Olson, 5-11, So.; Dylan Burns, 6-1, Sr.; Jackson Mailloux, 5-10, Jr.

Coach’s Quote: “I'm excited to see this group grow together and see what they can accomplish during their time as a team.”

Lead-Deadwood Golddiggers

Head coach: Patrick Gatzke, first season with Lead-Deadwood.

Last season: 4-17 overall.

Returning starters: Chris Lipp, 6-1, Sr.; Zach Murray, 6-1, Sr., (will miss season due to torn ACL and MCL); Gavin Haefs, 6-4, Sr.

Returning lettermen: Jacob Alley, 6-2, Sr.; Luke Fish, 6-4, Jr.; Carter Nelson, 5-11, Jr.; Wyatt Wande Velde, 5-11, Jr.

Coach’s Quote: “I am looking to have a successful season. A successful season in my eyes is the team giving maximum effort, being competitive all season long, improving each game, enjoying the moment, and continuing to grow the number of players within the program."

St. Francis Indian

Head coach: Rich Crow Eagle, 11th season with St. Francis.

Last season: 15-8 overall.

Returning starters: Mahpiya Horse Looking, 6-1, Sr., 6.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg; Jadis Metcalf, Sr., 6.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg; Jaylen Bear Robe, 6-2, 5.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg.

Returning lettermen: Chase Bolts, 5-8; Josh Iron Shell, 5-8; Aaron White Bird, 6-2.

Promising prospects: Jayden Marshall, 6-2, Sr.; Jordan Kills In Water, 6-3, Jr.; Jeff Curry, 6-4, Jr.; Kyler Valandria, 5-10, So.; Canku Martinez, 6-3, So.; Caylen Clairmont, 6-0, Fr.; Loren White Hat, 5-10, Fr.; Trevon Traversie, 5-10, Fr.

Coach’s Quote: “We return a few kids that started for us from a year ago, with that experience they know and understand the concept of what is needed to be successful. We will not be as deep as last year, so roles will be needed to be filled to the best of the abilities that we have.”


Todd County Falcons

Head coach: Bob Boyd, 10th year with Todd County.

Last season: 19-3 overall, lost to Dell Rapids in Sweet 16.

Returning starters: Caelyn Valandra-Prue, 5-7, Fr., 23 ppg, seven rpg; Raven Cournoyer, 5-3, Jr., 14 ppg, 4.5 apg; Doris White Hat, 5-3, seven ppg, 3.2 apg; Kelsie German, 5-4, So., 11.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg; Gabby Iron Heart, 5-9, So., 2.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg.

Returning lettermen: Lacee Halligan, 5-7, Jr., three ppg, 3.8 rpg; Katie Bear Shield, 5-10, Sr., 5.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg; Alanis Murray, 5-6. Jr., 3.4  ppg, 3.3 rpg; Caylia Brady (transfer), 5-6, So.; Hayley Quick Bear (transfer), 5-8, So.

Coach’s Quote: “Expectations are extremely high this year. We have our entire team coming back from a team that finished 19-3 and made it to the Sweet 16, but lost to Dell Rapids. We are one year older and stronger. Our two transfers are going to make this team the deepest team I've had in my 10 years at TC."

Custer Lady Wildcats

Head coach: Stephanie Ornelas, ninth season with Custer.

Last season: 13-7 overall.

Key returning players: Tori Glazier, 5-9. Sr., 14 ppg, four ppg, three spg; Tayler Carlson, Carlson, 5-7, Sr., eight ppg, two rpg, one spg; Kenzie Hetley, 5-5, Sr., eight ppg, two rpg, two spg; Kenzie Becker, 5-5, Sr., (Hill City transfer); Kelsey Herman, 5-9, So., two ppg; Mallory Delmont, 5-6, So.

Coach’s Quote: “The Custer Lady Wildcats are a strong group of athletes ready to play and work hard. Their determination to win will out power height and skill when facing our opponents.” 

Winner Warriors

Head coach: Larry Aaker, fifth season with Winner.

Last season: 15-7 overall.

Returning starters: Madyson Frazier, 5-7, Sr., nine ppg, three rpg, two apg.

Returning lettermen: Bella Swedlund, 5-8, eighth grade, 13.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, two apg; Morgan Hammerbeck, 5-11, So., 6.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.5 apg; Gabriel Kocer, 5-10, Jr., 5.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg.

Coach’s Quote: “We will be young, but should be competitive. We look to be playing our best basketball come post season.”

Rapid City Christian Comets

Head coach: Paul Anderson, third season Christian.

Last season: 3-17 overall.

Returning lettermen: Sarah Dringman; Funke Ogunremi; Reagan Wombold; Becca Morgan; Skylar Armendariz; Grace Stickney; Ari Hendrickson; Abby Pierce; Taylor Maher.

Promising prospects: Kayla Clewely; Aleya Melhaff; Morgan Swarthout; Sierra Armendariz; Matti Johnson; Abbie Goff; Olivia Kieffer.

Coach’s Quote: “We are very young, but with some experience. Our goals are to increase our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ and increase our basketball skill level every time we take the floor.”