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St. Thomas More's Caden Casey puts up the ball for a basket during Friday's game at Sturgis.

Hannah Hunsinger, Journal staff

Both St. Thomas More basketball programs are not shy about heading east for top-notch competition when not in Black Hills Conference play.

They’ll get to stay home (almost) tonight and Friday against a couple of strong Class A East River programs with the annual Cavalier Christmas Classic at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Also competing in the tournament will be Aberdeen Roncalli and Madison, along with BHC and regional foe Belle Fourche.

Tonight’s action will see the Belle Fourche girls take on Aberdeen Roncalli at 3:30 p.m., followed by the Belle-Roncalli boys’ game. At 6:30 p.m., the STM girls will face Madison, followed by the boys’ game at about 8 p.m.

It will be Belle-Madison and STM-Roncalli on Friday with the same schedule.

In what has turned out to be an annual holiday tournament, STM traveled to Roncalli (also the Cavaliers) the previous two years, and STM will play host this year and next season.

“It gives both programs an opportunity to play each other every year, but it gives us a chance to play a couple more East River teams,” STM boys' coach Dave Hollenbeck said. “It’s been a good thing, and it has been a good fundraiser for us. We’ve been very appreciate of all of our sponsors and all of the people who are helping put the event on.”

The STM girls are making four trips across the state this year, so it nice to face a couple of East River teams and just have to drive across town, STM girls’ coach Brandon Kandolin said.

“We’re excited knowing that the last couple of years we headed up there, and certainly having a couple of games closer to home for us is something to be excited about,” Kandolin said. “Having it at the Civic Center, a different venue, hopefully brings a good atmosphere.

“The ability to bring in a couple of solid teams is beneficial for everybody, and hopefully for the community.”

Cavalier boys will have their hands full

It’s been a slow start for the young STM boys’ team at 1-3, and it won’t help this week with two unbeaten teams coming to Rapid City.

Madison, which finished second last season at the state tournament, is ranked second in the state this year at 4-0.

“We have two really programs coming to town. Madison is one of the top teams in the whole state. Coach (Michael) Ricke has built a nice program. They are playing a real high level,” Hollenbeck said.

The Bulldogs, led by the Janke brothers (Jaxon and Jadon), own double-digit wins over Elk Point-Jefferson, Tri Valley, Lennox and Beresford

Roncalli is also undefeated to start off the year at 3-0, with some impressive victories as well, winning by an average of 28 points per game.

“They have a new coach (Brian Dolan) running a new system, but they are doing really well right now,” Hollenbeck said. “They also have a good group of athletes like Madison does.”

For St. Thomas More, Hollenbeck said they are just trying to find ways to get better as they look to improve by the postseason tournament.

“When you get teams coming into town like this, you have to lace them up and find ways to work harder and get better,” he said

Hollenbeck said their problem is they are not working hard enough and they need to be a little tougher. He said it is the simple things they have to get better at before they can begin to strategize. After four games, he said they can’t use youth as an excuse and they need to “man up” and play better basketball.

Belle Fourche is 2-3 on the season. Clay Pottorff’s Broncs are 2-3 on the season with wins over Sundance, Wyo., and Lemmon last weekend, 58-32.

Strong field expected in girls’ tourney

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The combined overall record of the four girls' teams is 14-3, with STM, Belle Fourche and Roncalli all unbeaten.

Roncalli is young with just one senior on the roster, but it has been impressive this season.

“They are on a roll. They are a team that always seems to be similar to us since we played them first six years ago,” Kandolin said. “They are a team that is fundamentally sound that executes their plays well, and they will pressure you on defense.”

Madison is just 2-3 on the season, but has a veteran squad back that competed in the state tournament last year. In fact, STM opened the tournament with the Bulldogs and ran away with a 57-32 victory.

“They will be a team to contend with. They have a good forward (Jessi Giles) who is very versatile, and they have a center (6-3 Nicole Brown) that is a presence inside,” Kandolin said. “They also have a couple of girls who can shoot it.”

St. Thomas More, shooting for its fifth straight Class A state title this March, is off to a 4-0 start, with good wins over Class AA Sioux Falls Washington and Sturgis, along with victories over Alliance, Neb., and Lennox, the team the Cavs beat for the state title last season.

All four wins this season have been on the road.

“We’re excited to where we are at,” Kandolin said. “We have played some good teams. We got a good win against Sioux Falls Washington to start the season and we played Lennox in the Pentagon, again a strong team. That night we were prepared and ready. That was a good win for us.

“The four games we have played so far have been against very solid teams, the kind of games we want to have early in the season to see what we need to work on.”

Bill Burr’s Belle Fourche team is off to a 5-0 start and owns a 14-point win over Class AA Sturgis, along with victories over Hill City, Newcastle, Wyo., Sundance, Wyo., and Lemmon.

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.