The South Dakota Heat is comprised of several of the best players from area high schools, but coach Donavan DeBoer has seen his team seamlessly come together.
That unselfish, team-first attitude has led to an extremely successful summer tour for the eight area girls, while generating better opportunities for them following their departure from the high school ranks.
The summer traveling team is coming off a fantastic run through the Miss Basketball Showcase that ended Sunday in Kearney (Neb.). The Heat went 7-1, won their pool with a 3-0 mark before losing at the buzzer in single elimination, but rebounded to win the consolation bracket, finishing 17th out of 64 teams.
“We had a really good week,” DeBoer said. “The first round game, we gave up 10 3-pointers and didn’t really perform well. But the kids were resilient and responded really well.”
The team is comprised of Moira and Ciara Duffy (St. Thomas More), Marissa Hirchert and Taylor Molstad (Rapid City Stevens), Dru Gylten (Hill City), Shanna Selby (Faith), Morgan Hamm (Lemmon) and Kacie O’Connor (Sundance, Wyo.).
Recognized as some of the top players in the region, DeBoer said the girls have had no problems blending collectively. There has been no complaining about shots or minutes, something that has made his job substantially easier.
“Ciara is leading in scoring, but everybody is playing well,” DeBoer said. “Everyone is probably one of their team’s best players, but when they get with kids of their own caliber, they share the ball. It’s really amazing that they share the ball so well with the fact we’ve rarely practiced. I think that’s why we’re so successful, because they all play together.”
That has led to a 17-5 mark and first place in three of the four tournament pools, with three of the losses coming by just two points. Prior to Kearney, the Heat went 4-2 in Sioux Falls at the Dakota Showcase in June, then were on the road from July 6-14, going 4-2 at an Ames tournament and winning all three contests at the Dakota Challenge in Brandon Valley.
What’s more impressive is that this team has just three seniors (Moira Duffy, Selby and O’Connor) going against squads made up of seniors. But whatever their grade level is, one giant bonus for all of the Heat has been the added exposure to college scouts and coaches.
“(College exposure) has to be the main focus,” DeBoer said. “This is our third year, and all eight kids we’ve graduated out of our program are playing in college. You look at Kacie, who was getting no looks, to where now after every tournament she’s had four or five colleges calling. They’re getting to showcase their abilities in front of 50 or 60 coaches, who may not be able to see them because they’re coaching during their season.”
DeBoer also admitted that his team is playing with an added sense of pride for West River, continually looked down upon in sports by East River (at times, for good reason).
“I think as a team, the kids do carry a bit of a chip on their shoulder. They feel like they get a little disrespected,” he said. “They just want to show that while we may not have the amount of people on this side, we do have some really good players.”
Besides the growth of the players, the Raider head coach has turned his passion of being on the sidelines as another experience to improve as a coach.
“I love teaching the game, and in this setting there’s not quite as much as stress,” DeBoer said. “It’s exciting helping them grow and getting to know these other players and their families in other communities. These kids do me a favor - they’re probably teaching me more than I’m teaching them.”