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It’s been water cooler fodder for years: St. Thomas More versus Rapid City Stevens or Central in basketball.

It’s finally going to be reality, as STM and Stevens will meet on the court tonight at Carold Heier Gymnasium in girls’ basketball action.

And it’s about as late of a schedule addition as you can get on the varsity level, as it wasn’t finalized until Wednesday night after both schools had games cancelled last Friday because of winter weather.

It’s also not just St. Thomas More and Rapid City Stevens: it’s two good basketball teams facing off just ahead of postseason play. The Cavaliers, 17-2, are the four-time defending Class A state champions, and the Raiders, 15-3, are ranked third in the most recent media poll in Class AA.

In just is second year with the Stevens program, Michael Brooks has taken plenty of questions as of why they don’t play. Now he can answer them with more positive results.

“Sometimes things have a way of working its way out. It is something we have talked about since I came to Stevens, the opportunity to make such a game possible,” Brooks said. “It just wasn’t in the cards because of contracting and things like that. We were on the same page and really interested in making this thing happen. It is great for this city, great for the girls who have played together on travel teams, and now they will get to battle each other for their school teams.”

Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. as it follows the Region 4A and 4B wrestling tournaments at Carold Heier Gymnasium. Doors are expected to open for the basketball game about 40 minutes before tipoff.

Veteran STM coach Brandon Kandolin credits the players from both teams in helping get the game together. Many of them are friends and have played with and against each other for years -- just not on the varsity level.

“I know our girls talk to their girls, and I have seen some of their girls come over and watch some of our games, and our girls go watch their games,” he said. “There’s no animosity towards anybody, and it would seem like a good idea to play.”

Brooks said that he has talked to Raider alumni, including on their current staff, and just hearing their stories, he said it is something they always wished could have been a part of, and the city always talking about.

Kandolin said that not only should it be a great game, but it would be great for Rapid City and West River.

“I’m not sure what the big holdup is? For me, I sit here and think that maybe nine or 10 years ago we probably would have to been able to compete with them. It is understandable that it wouldn’t have benefited them to play us,” he said. “But I guess these last six or eight years for us, we started to become competitive. It would be a great chance to play a Central or a Stevens. For me, as long as we are competitive, if there are basketball fans in West River, in Rapid City specifically, why wouldn’t you want to see a good basketball game? It’s about a chance to showcase our athletes.”

Kandolin said that it probably won’t happen every year, but they need to take advantage of the situation while they can.

“It’s good basketball and that is what people want to see,” he said.

It’s been a good season to date for Rapid City basketball, especially on the boys’ side as Central and Stevens are both ranked in the Top three in the state and recently played to two capacity filled gymnasiums — about 4,000 fans at Stevens and about 2,000 fans Thursday night at Central.

Now, it’s the girls turn.

For Brooks, he is getting a crash course on STM basketball.

“I had to reach out to teams we have never had to reach out before. Luckily for us, they do play some teams we play (Douglas, Sturgis and Spearfish), because they are in the Black Hills Conference,” he said. 

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Brooks has nothing but admiration for Kandolin and the Cavaliers. He said STM has a great system that understands its roles and responsibilities.

“They have had such tremendous success that they truly believe they are going to win every game they go into,” Brooks said. “It has been great to see how he (Kandolin) transforms that team, a team that can compete against anybody at any time.”

It’s also a chance for both teams to get a little better regardless of the outcome, as they get ready for postseason play. STM begins region play next week, while Stevens has a couple more regular-season games, including its big rivalry contest Tuesday at Central.

Kandolin said they didn’t break any film down on the Raiders, and he is just approaching the game like a state tournament game. Win and move on.

“In the state tournament, after you play that first night you are not sure who you are going to play. You just prepare the best that you can,” he said. “We know they (Stevens) have some great players and are a great squad. They are ranked for a reason, because they are really good and they have played well.

"For me, we want to take advantage of this because it is going to be maybe a Sweet 16 or state-like atmosphere. It’s on a bigger floor and it is going to be a big crowd. It is what you want to experience right before a playoff run. This is the kind of game you want.”

The Raiders are a different team than they were a month ago after losing two regulars from season-ending knee injuries. That has forced them to change their game a bit, Brooks said.

“It’s always great to challenge yourself and give yourself the opportunity to get better,” he said. “I thought we did that with Lincoln (last Saturday), up 7 or 8 in the fourth quarter, but it was a missed opportunity (55-54 loss). To have a chance to play another perennial great team, a four-time defending state champion team, what better way to prepare ourselves for what we are ready to endure? This was a no-brainer for me, to get better.”

Kandolin said that it will be interesting considering it has been thrown together so quick, but he said it is crazy how the word has gotten around, even across the state.

“I hope it does break down a little barrier to say, 'if there is an opportunity for two good teams to match up, let’s see what they do if they play,'" he said.

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.