For the past five seasons and six of the last seven, the St. Thomas More girls' basketball team has stood tall and stepped up to the top of the Class A podium.
Just how many of those big steps do they have left in them?
Some of those same questions were asked last season, only to see the Cavaliers, 23-3, roll at the right time for yet another state championship under longtime head coach Brandon Kandolin.
With just two regulars back from last season's state title team — the fifth straight for the program — many of the same questions are being dusted off once again for review this season.
Kandolin said this group of Cavaliers came in knowing what they have to do to contend for another state title.
"We always think we have a chance," he said. "Certainly the previous years have helped each group understand what it is going to take, whether it is the work ethic, the desire, the off-season. All of those things make a huge difference."
Every year when the Cavaliers go to state, Kandolin said he tries to take as many younger players to the tournament as possible because he wants them to soak in that environment and the experience.
"Hopefully that gets any jitters or any questions out of the way for them, so they understand what it is going to be like. When it is their turn to step up, they'll know what it is going to take," he said.
Back leading the way this season is senior Alex Kandolin and sophomore Haleigh Timmer, along with five juniors who have been in the program long enough to know what it is all about.
It all starts with Kandolin and Timmer.
"Alex has that ability to see the floor and do the things you don't think that always show up on the stat sheet. She'll defend big, she'll defend small, and she has the ability to score inside and outside," Brandon Kandolin said. "Haleigh is kind of the same thing. She is a young player who can shoot and defend. Her biggest thing is her quickness. Being 5-9, she is a huge asset for us."
Brandon Kandolin said the five juniors — Skylar Sullivan, Ciara Benson, Lizzy Elder and Kaci Cooper — have that chemistry together that includes experiencing the last couple of state tournaments.
"When you are that next group coming up, you are always practicing against that year's varsity. What a way to try to get better," he said.
Alex Kandolin said that herself and Timmer might be the only two with the most court time, but they have a strong supporting cast behind them.
"The next three, four, five girls might not have experience, but skill-wise, they are there with us," Alex Kandolin said. "Our team dynamic, I think, is stronger than last year. We have played together for a long time."
Timmer, who got extensive time on the floor as a freshman last season for the varsity, said they are all really determined athletes, and she said that is going to take them a long way this year.
"We all obviously have the same goal. Our team chemistry to going to take us to the stage that we want to be at," she said.
The Cavaliers did lose some height and offensive spark from a year ago. Brandon Kandolin said it is never a matter of who has to pick up the scoring load, it is the execution that matters the most.
Although they have been spoiled with some scorers in the last few years from anywhere on the court, he said it is the consistency on the defensive end that makes this team go.
"Most of the time half of our points come off of turnovers," he said. "As we practice defensively, who is capable of doing what and who is going to guard what? That's a big part of our game."
Brandon Kandolin said the biggest challenge this year is overcoming the length they have had in the previous five or six years.
"We had a bunch of a 5-10, 5-11, 6-1 kids who were very athletic," he said. "This year we don't have that arm span, that length. But we still certainly are as athletic and as quick. It will be the matchups and how we are going to defend people."
Alex Kandolin said at this point of the season, the pressure of repeating isn't there. They are just concentrating on gaining momentum throughout the season.
"The coaches always say that we haven't won anything yet; you're just a team," she said. "Knowing that feeling that I had when we did win last year, it is what we strive for, and I really want this team to experience it together. To get there, we need that extra push that they (coaches) are giving us."
Timmer said that their trust in each other and versatility on defense will help them succeed.
"As always, it begins on the defensive end and letting it build into our offense," Timmer said. "I think we are going to be quick, and we're going to have to perform on the defensive end and help that transition to our offense."
Editor’s note: Questionnaires were sent out to the West River A coaches, and these were returned. If questionnaires are returned after print publication, they will be added online.
Class A Boys
St. Thomas More Cavaliers
Head coach: Dave Hollenbeck
Last season’s record: 13-12
Returning starters or letter winners: Boone Biegler, 6-2, Jr; Caden Casey, 5-11, Jr.; Michael Eastmo, 6-7, Sr.; Jarek Glenn, 5-8, Jr.; Michael Gylten; 5-11, Jr.; Connor Hollenbeck, 6-3, Jr.; Grant Huber, 5-10, Jr.; Carter Janssen, 5-11, Sr.; Ryder Kirsch, 6-6, Jr.; Ryan Wojcik, 6-2, Soph.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: "We lost three solid starters to graduation and it will take us some time to fill those holes," Hollenbeck said. "We like this group, but need to progress our skill level and toughness. This may be the strongest schedule we have played. We feel we can make a run come tournament time if we stay healthy, develop leadership, work on jump shots and free throws outside of scheduled practice time, and give up playing Fortnite."
Belle Fourche Broncs
Head coach: Clay Pottorff
Last season’s record: 6-17
Returning starters or letterwinners: Kelby Olson, 6-2, Jr., 14.7 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 1.7 spg; Tate Hostetter, 5-10, Sr., 12 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 1.4 apg.; Chandler Kerr, 6-4, Sr., 5.5 ppg., 5.8 rpg.; Michael Leverington 6-3, Sr., 4 ppg., 3 rpg.; Bryce Nicholas 6-0, Sr., 3.6., ppg., 2.4 rpg.; Taten Fox 5-11, Sr., 3.1 ppg., 2.8 rpf.; Aiden Giffin 6-1, Fr., 5 ppg., 5 rpg. in five games last year as an 8th grader; Colby Nowowiejski 6-2, Jr.; Tate Larson , 5-10, Jr.; Jackson Mailloux, 5-11 Sr.; Jackson Tyndall 5-9, Jr.; Carson Gubbrud 6-3, Sr.
Rapid City Christian Comets
Head coach: Kyle Courtney
Last season’s record: 16-6
Returning starters or letterwinners: Zane Schlabach, 6-2, Sr., 15.6 ppg., 6.0 rpg.; Levi Vanden Bos , 5-10, Sr., 9.6 ppg., 5.3 apg.; Ethan Wipf, 6-3, Jr., 8.9 ppg., 3.6 rpg.; Jack Roisum, 5-11, Jr., 8.7 ppg., 4.9 rpg.; David Greni , 6-3, Jr., 2.5 ppg. , 4.6 rpg.; David Schmagel , 5-11, Sr., 4.5 ppg.; Damon Standing Soldier, 6-1, Sr.; Terrance Asbridge, 6-3, Jr.; Noah Roisum, 5-11, Jr.; Sam Schlabach, 6-3, Soph.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “I am very excited with the group of young men we have in our program this season. We did not lose anyone to graduation and so we return nice depth and experience,” Courtney said. “We also have some promising younger players in the program, so I am excited to see how they develop. It has made for some competitive practices so far, which is very beneficial. We will try to control the things we can control, such as working hard everyday to get better and focusing on developing good team chemistry.”
Hot Springs Bison
Head coach: Aaron Noteboom
Last season’s record: 13-9
Returning starters or letterwinners: Starters, Thane Lockhart:, 5-10, Sr., Matt Norton, 6-1, Sr., Kelton Harris, 6-0, Sr., Morgan Harkless, 6-2, Sr. Returning Letterwinners, Gage Uhlir, 6-6, Sr., Alex Bilbruck, 6-6, Jr., Wrider Allison, 6-2, Soph.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “We will have an experienced basketball team that has worked hard in the offseason and has seen great improvements both individually and as a team,” Notebboom said. “As always, we will strive to be competitive in the Black Hills Conference and play solid, fundamental team basketball.”
Head coach: Paul Kelley
Last season’s record: 5-16
Returning starters or letterwinners: Nolan Patzlaff, 5-7 Sr., 16 ppg., 3.2 rpg., 3 apg.; Jace Kelley – 6-0 Soph., 11 ppg ., 3 rpg., 2 apg.; Isaac Powers, 6-4, Jr., 3 ppg.; Dustyn Fish, 6-0, Soph., 4 ppg.; AJ Kortemeyer, 6-3, Jr.; Daniel Sedlacek, 6-0, Soph.; Grant Sullivan, 6-0, Soph.; EJ Gonzalez, 6-1, Jr.; Dathan Elmore, 5-7, Jr.; Kaleb Wragge, 6-1, Jr.; Brody Martinez, 6-4, Jr.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “We return a lot of experience but are still young,” Kelley said. “We look to be competitive in both our conference and region.”
Red Cloud Crusaders
Head coach: Christian McGhee
Last season’s record: 21-5, 5th place finish at State
Returning starters or letterwinners: Alejanrdo Rama, 6-1, Sr., 24 ppg., 6 apg., 5 rpg.; Riyen Carlow, 6-2, Jr., 10 ppg., 4 rpg., 3apg., 2spg.; Jalen Cross, 6-3, Sr., 6 ppg., 6 rpg.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “I feel very confident in our group. We will be young, and not much experience outside of our top seven, but we had tons of kids in the gym in the off season and have had huge jumps,” McGhee said. “ We are going to need kids to step up which I know will be the case. We’re a very hardworking group with great attitudes. We won't be anywhere close that we need to be at the start the season, but we will be right there at the end, in the mix to get to the state tournament and make some noise.”
Head coach: Brett Gardner
Last season’s record: 6-15
Returning starters or letterwinners: Brandon Volmer , 6-4, Sr., 11.8 ppg., 6.7 rpg.; Brady Fritz, 6-2, Soph.,14.9 ppg., 5.3 rpg.; Shea Connot, 5-11, Sr., 5-11, Sr., 9.2 ppg.; Joren Bruun, 6-1, Jr., 8.3 ppg.; Phillip Jorgensen, 5-11, Jr.; Tyson Westendorf, 6-7, Sr.; Nolan Sachtjen, 5-11, Sr. ; Jerry Long Crow 6-0, Sr.; Casey Stickland, 6-2, Sr.; Oscar Pravecek, 6-0, Jr.; Kameron Meiners, 6-0, Jr.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “We are excited for the upcoming season,” Gardner said. “We played a lot of young guys last year and took our lumps. We are hoping the experience pays to be valuable for this year. We return our starting five and seven of our top eight. We looked to have a combination of size and speed and hope that pays dividends on the defensive end. We will look to work hard and continue to improve throughout the year.”
Hill City Rangers
Head coach: Blake Gardner
Last season’s record: 12-9
Returning starters or letterwinners: Noah Krull, 5-11, Sr.,12 ppg., 4 rpg.; Taylor Edwards, 6-5, Sr., 12 ppg., 10 rpg.; Javier Meza, 5-9, Jr.; Alberto Meza, 5-8, Jr.; Alan Salinas, 5-7, Soph.; Austin Groven, 5-7, Soph.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “We lost five seniors off last year’s squad, so there will be plenty of opportunity for our young guys to earn playing time,” Gardner said. “We will spend a lot of time working on defense and rebounding this season. Our goal is to improve as the season progresses and play our best basketball late in the season since we are relatively young. I really like our guys and Taylor Edwards and Noah Krull are two amazing leaders that will own the locker room and open up the floor for the other players.”
Class A Girls
Belle Fourche Broncs
Head coach: Bill Burr
Last season’s record: 23-4.
Returning letter winners: Rylee Young, Ashley Byrd, Payson Birkeland, Bree Pierce, Savanna Rosales, Taryn Stedillie, Jayme Peterson, Bella Jensen.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “We are excited to get this season going. We have some great potential with this group, and if we can play to that potential, we see ourselves playing in the round of 16 again,” Burr said.
Bennett County Lady Warriors
Head Coach: Anthony Muilenburg
Last season's record: 3-16
Returning starters or letterwinners: Jessica Begeman, Sr., Lainee Link, Sr., Erica Bakley, Sr., Carissa Louden, Sr., Keisha Rayhill, Sr., Josie May, Sr., Lexi Bair, Jr.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “Last year as a team we made many strides in the right direction. We hope to build off of what we accomplished last year and the foundation that was set for our program.,” Muilenburg said. “Our motto for this season and for the future of our program is: Team. Effort. Tradition. In other words, nobody is better than the team and nobody's individual goals come before the teams goals. I have drilled the word "effort" a lot lately and remind my girls that no one can control their effort but themselves, that simply comes within each and every girl on the team.”
St. Thomas More Lady Cavaliers
Head coach: Brandon Kandolin
Last season’s record: 23-3 (state champion).
Returning starters and letterwinners: Alex Kandolin, 5-8, Sr., 47 percent field goals, 44 percent 3-pointers, 50 percent free throws, 2.5 apg., 2.5 rpg.; Haleigh Timmer, 5-9, Soph., 49 percent field goals, 24 percent 3-pointers, 70 percent free throws, 1.2 apg., 2.7 apg.; Skylar Sullivan, 5-7, Jr., Ciara Benson , 5-8, Jr., Lizzy Elder, 5-9, Jr., Kaci Cooper, 5-9, Jr.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: See story.
Winner Lady Warriors
Head coach: Larry Aaker
Last season’s record: 19-3
Returning starters or letterwinners: Morgan Hammerbeck, 5-11, Jr., 16 ppg., 7.5 rpg., 3.6 apg., 2.7 spg; Bella Swedlund , 5-7, Fr., 7 ppg., 2.4 rpg.; Gabriel Kocer, 5-10, St., 13.4 ppg., 4.7 rpg., 1.1 apg., 1.2 spg.; Abby Marts, 6-0, Sr., 3.6 ppg., 4.1 rpg.; Madison Thieman, 5-4, Sr.; Gracie Littau, 5-6, Sr.; Maggie LaCompte, 5-7, Soph.; Madi Kerner, 5-9, Sr.; Jeslyn Felix, 5-6, Sr.; Kelsey Sachtjen, 5-9, Fr.; Ellie Brozik, 5-8, Fr.; Alexis Richey, 5-5, Sr.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “We have a lot of pieces returning, but we need to stay healthy and play together in order to accomplish the goals we have,” Aaker said.
Todd County Lady Falcons
Head coach: Bob Boyd, Jr.
Last season's record: 18-4
Returning starters or letterwinners: Raven Cournoyer, Sr., 12 ppg.; Kelsie Herman, Jr., 10 ppg; Doris White Hat, Sr., 2 ppg.; Lacee; Halligan, Sr., 3 ppg.; Haylee Quick Bear, Sr., 7 ppg.7 points; Teciah Spotted Tail, Sr, 2 ppg.; Alanis Murray, 12, 2 ppg.
Outlook for the 2018-2019 season: “We have a team that has grown up and now is made up of mostly seniors. It's a team that has played in an LNI Championship, two Sweet 16 games and a region championship game, so we have a lot of experience in big games,” Boyd said. “Players like Raven Cournoyer and Kelsie Herman have developed into potential All-State caliber players. We will be small but quick. These seniors have been a part of 49 wins the three seasons. Our region is extremely tough, maybe the toughest in Class A, so it is going to be a challenging season.”
Head coach: Mick Patzlaff
Last season’s record: 15-8.
Returning starters or letterwinners: Mallory Delmont, 5-7, Jr.; Kelsey Herman, 5-8, Jr.; Josey Wahlstrom, 5-4, Fr.; Sadie Glade, 5-8, Fr.; Kellyn Kortemeyer, 6-2, Fr.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “We will be very young. We graduated four starters from last year’s team that had a winning record,” Patzlaff said. “Delmont and Herman split starting duties last season. Wahlstrom played a lot off the bench and Glade saw some action last season. Kortemeyer got into some varsity games late in the season last year. We will need significant contributions from inexperienced players. The Black Hills Conference will be very good this season, so we will have to improve quickly if we are going to be competitive in our league.”
Pine Ridge Lady Thorpes
Head coach: Laura Big Crow
Last season’s record: 17-5
Returning starters or letterwinners: Katerri Weston, 5-5, Sr.; Taysha Big Crow, 5-11, Jr.; Duka Thompson, 5-7, Sr.; Kiera Bagola, 5-6, Sr. Transfers: Haylee Langdeau , 5-8, Jr.; Natasha Swiftwater, 5-7, Sr. Freshman: Tobi Carlow, 5-6.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “We are looking to be a quick scrappy defensive threat for this season,” Big Crow said. “We have been running and working hard to be as physically aggressive on defensive that we possibly can be. We have a strong powerhouse in the paint in Taysha Big Crow and an amazing presence on the perimeter.”
St. Francis Indian School
Head coach: Rich Crow Eagle
Last season’s record: 3-20.
Returning starters or letterwinners: Charlize Arcoren, Sr.; Jazlea Arcoren, Jr.; Keyanee Metcalf, Jr.; Laine Four Horns, So.; Valeria Clairmont, So.; Alayah Whiting, Jr.; Matilda Anderson Sr., Jaenada Hesse, Jr.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: “We are a older team with a ton of experience across the board, and learning a new system might take us some time,” Crow Eagle said. “Our region is pretty tough from top to bottom and we are looking to compete against some good competition.”
Rapid City Christian Lady Comets
Head coach: AJ Trennepohl
Last season's record: 7-23
Returning starters or letterwinners: Kayla Clewley, 6-3, Sr.; Reagan Wombold, 5-9, Sr.; Ari Hendrickson, 5-10, Jr.; Aleyah Melhoff, 5-7, Jr.; Gracie Stickney, 5-6, Jr.; Rebecca Morgan, 5-5, Jr.; Skyler Armandariz, 5-8, Jr.; Abbie Pierce, 5-7, Soph.; Olivia Kieffer, 5-9, 8th grader.
Outlook for 2018-2019 season: "We are looking to ride the momentum from the state tournament run made by the volleyball team," Trennepohl said. "Our team motto is Colossians 3:23 and these girls really try to do that every day. They are all hard workers and willing to learn. We have a good mix of experience and youth, with key contributors coming from all classes. Our athleticism and size will be our biggest strength, as we look to improve our record compared to last season. We have set high standards and expectations for ourselves and look forward to the challenge of meeting them."