Last year the Pine Ridge Lady Thorpes went into the Class A girls' state basketball tournament seeded eighth, with their main goal to improve on their seed, which they did with a sixth-place finish.
This season, the Lady Thorpes go into the tournament that begins today at the Watertown Civic Arena as the No. 3 seed. Last year's goal is still this year's goal.
“We're very confident that we can come in here and play our best all three days,” said Pine Ridge head coach Laura Big Crow, whose team opens the tournament against sixth-seed Chamberlain in the first round's finale at 6:45 p.m. MST.
Pine Ridge, 20-1, is led by seniors Jolonna Sazue, Shaniah Richard and Anissa Martin, along with junior Santana White Dress and sophomore Lynette Bettelyoun. The Lady Thorpes cruised through the regular season with their lone blemish a 52-51 defeat to Todd County on Jan. 24 in Mission.
While happy with the regular season, Big Crow said her team is confident, but not overconfident.
“I figure that any team that makes the state tournament is pretty much a No. 1 seed because you have to be good to get there,” said Big Crow after Wednesday afternoon's practice in Watertown. “We're just going in ready to play, whoever we got matched up with.”
That match-up is against a good and taller Chamberlain team that has just one loss on the season as well (21-1). The two teams didn't face each other this season and Big Crow said their main focus is to just play their own game, which relies on athleticism, quickness and defense.
“We're going to go to the game doing what we've done all season; we're not going to change anything,” she said. “Everything that we've done this year has helped us win. We've played against teams that have been taller than us. It is something that we're going to have to play against, change up, but it is nothing that we haven't played against before.”
Defense is the key for these Lady Thorpes, setting up their offense, which averages 76 points a game.
“These girls are so quick; we're a fast team and we like to run,” Big Crow said. “We're ready to run up and down that court for three days.”
Last year's state tournament experience should benefit Pine Ridge this season, said Big Crow, who added that the tournament's top two seeds – No. 1 Harrisburg and No. 2 Spearfish, are the favorites, along with her team.
“We don't know much about (Harrisburg), but Spearfish has been playing very well,” said Big Crow, whose team beat the Spartans 53-41 on Dec. 27 in Spearfish.
The key for the eventual winner? Defense and working hard, Big Crow said, something that is right up her team's alley.
“No matter what happens, I know my girls will work hard,” she said.
Spearfish, 17-4, take on a West Central team, 18-5, that has won 12 of its last 13 games, but just slipped past Parkston 44-43 in the Region 5 championship. That match-up is set for 5 p.m.
Spearfish head coach Eric Lappe said West Central is a solid team.
“They don't do anything fancy, they're not extremely athletic or tall,” Lappe said. “They are just a solid ball-club with no glaring weaknesses. We have to play a good, solid game to have a chance to win.”
Lappe said it is a deep tournament, mentioning Chamberlain as the sixth seed with just one loss.
"I think we do have a chance; I think we should be one of the favorites going in," he said. "That's why they play the games and we'll see what happens. We have to put three really good games together in three days."
The Spartans knocked off defending state champion St. Thomas More in the 16A District title game and ran past Red Cloud by 20 points for the Region 8A title.
In the other first-roundup match-ups, Harrisburg, 22-1, takes on No. 8 Sioux Falls Christian, 16-7, at 11 a.m. and No. 4 Clark/Willow Lake, 18-4 faces No. 5 Aberdeen Roncalli, 18-3.