The long National Football League career of Rapid City native Adam Vinatieri has once again earned the South Dakota State graduate the honor of being named South Dakota’s Sports Celebrity of the Year. The honor is one of several year-end recognitions chosen by the South Dakota Sportswriters Association (SDSWA)
Vinatieri has won two Super Bowls with game-winning kicks and has 46 field goals over 50 yards. But it was a chip shot that put him in the National Football League’s record books.
Vinatieri's 25-yarder at the end of the second quarter in Indianapolis' 42-28 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 28 will surely be one he never forgets. With that kick, Vinatieri passed Hall of Famer Morten Andersen to become the NFL's all-time leading scorer. He added three extra points in the fourth quarter that give him 2,560 for his career — six more than Andersen.
He has 2,585 points heading into the Dec. 23 game with the New York Giants.
Vinatieri kicked for Rapid City Central and then went to South Dakota State before going to NFL Europe, and then starting his NFL career, first with the New England Patriots and now with the Colts.
It is the third time in his career that Vinatieri has been honored by the SDSWA, which has voted on statewide honors since 1958. He previously was honored in 1997 and 2002, and joins Becky Hammon (2005, 2014, 2015), Chad Greenway (2009, 201, 2016) and Mike Miller (1998, 2000 with Josh Heupel, 2012) as three-time winners. Longtime Major League Baseball manager Sparky Anderson is the only four-time winner of the honor (1970, 1975, 1984, 1993) in the celebrity category.
Honorees are chosen in several different categories, including college, prep and independent (not college or prep), with honors going to athletes, coaches and teams. Here are the other honorees:
Prep Girls’ Team
St. Thomas More Basketball
As the clock counted down in the 2018 Class A girls' basketball state championship game in Watertown, the St. Thomas More student section couldn’t help but put its own twist as the seconds ticked away.
Once the clock hit five seconds the fans started to chant “FIVE, FIVE, FIVE,” as in, the amount of consecutive state titles the Cavaliers had earned.
STM held off a game Madison squad 54-41 to win its fifth straight state title and the sixth in the last seven years.
It wasn’t always easy for the 24-4 Cavaliers, who combined to go 91-5 in the previous four title seasons. But that is what St. Thomas More coach Brandon Kandolin said also has made this team special.
“I think where it’s different is we were faced with some adversity,” Kandolin said. “We took a couple of losses (throughout the season) that we knew we probably should have won, and I think it exposed some things for us that we needed to work on.”
Independent Male Athlete
Peyton Zabel, Pierre
While the Pierre standout was a force in both football and basketball during his senior season — winning Player of the Year honors in both — he was nearly untouchable when he was on the mound. The hard-throwing right-handed pitcher notched 79 strikeouts during the spring, including a 16-strikeout performance in the state semifinals.
Taken in the 19th round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, Zabel opted to go to college instead. He is competing in both football and baseball at Augustana University.
Independent Female Athlete
Taryn Kloth, Sioux Falls
A Sioux Falls O'Gorman graduate, Kloth closed out her senior season at Creighton in style, picking up honorable mention All-America honors as she led the Bluejays back to the NCAA Tournament. The outside hitter led Creighton with 4.15 kills per set and also ranked among the Big East leaders by hitting .283. Her 490 kills are the most in school history by a senior, while her 1,427 career terminations are fourth-most in CU history.
With her Bluejays career now over, Kloth plans to play beach volleyball at LSU.
Canova Gang Amateur Baseball
Representing the small town in Miner County, the Gang (21-5) claimed its first Class B state championship since 2009 and its fifth championship overall with a 10-2 win over Cornbelt League rival Flandreau on Aug. 12.
Canova’s offense produced 58 runs and recorded 10 or more runs four times during the 12-day tournament at Augustana University’s Ronken field. Canova pitcher Trey Krier was the MVP of the tournament. He finished the tournament allowing two earned runs over 19 innings (0.95 ERA) and striking out 11 batters. He also went 6-for-14 (.429) at the plate with five RBIs. Justin Miller and Garrett Gassman also made the Class B all-tournament team.
College Male Athlete
Seth Gross, SDSU Wrestling
The junior in 2018 became the first Jackrabbit in the Division I era in any sport to win a national championship, placing first at 133 pounds at the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Gross posted a 29-1 record. He earned bonus points in 24 of his 29 wins, including 12 pins, seven technical falls and five major decisions.
The top seed won one match by fall and two each by major decision and decision at nationals. He defeated No. 2 Stevan Micic of Michigan 13-8 in the final.
Gross’ lone loss came when he moved up to 141 pounds and fell 4-2 to top-ranked Bryce Meredith of Wyoming in a dual.
SDSU finished 12th in the team standings at nationals. The Jackrabbits went 14-2 in duals, including an 8-0 mark in the Big 12 Conference.
College Men’s Coach
Paul Sather, NSU Basketball
Paul Sather did something no coach has ever done in South Dakota. The Northern State men's basketball team won more games in the 2018-19 season than any college men's team in the state ever had. The Wolves came one basket from winning the school's first NCAA team championship, and on the way they won a school-record tying 18 consecutive victories.
The team had star-caliber players across the board, but each one was bought in 100 percent to Sather's concept of a team, something he learned and developed from former Wolves coaches Don Meyer and Bob Olson. Any one player could've been among the best players on another region team, but each one sacrificed self and stats for wins. It worked.
College Men’s Team
The Vikings started strong and kept it up all season long, boasting a preposterously deep and talented pitching staff and pairing it with a powerful and speedy lineup that vaulted them to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history near the end of the regular season.
The NSIC champions advanced through regionals to make it to the D-II World Series, then won four straight games in the finals to become the northernmost team ever to win a D-II baseball championship.
Ace pitchers Jacob Blank (who was later drafted by the Twins) and Tyler Mitzel led the way, with Blank going the distance in the title game against Columbus State, striking out 12 batters in the 3-2 win, which included whiffing the side in order in the 9th inning.
College Female Athlete
Macy Miller, SDSU Basketball
The junior in 2017-18 returned from a torn ACL the prior season to earn Summit League Player of the Year honors and lead the Jackrabbits to the Summit League Women’s Basketball Championship title.
Miller averaged 18.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game. She shot 50.3 percent from the field and 45.1 percent from 3-point range.
SDSU beat South Dakota 65-50 in the Summit League final – avenging a pair of regular-season losses – and Miller was named Tournament MVP.
The Jackrabbits went 26-7 and earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, falling 81-74 in overtime to ninth-seeded Villanova.
Miller was the 2018-19 Summit League Preseason Player of the Year and again leads SDSU in scoring this season.
College Women’s Coach
Jason Christensen, DWU Basketball
Christensen’s eighth season at the helm of Dakota Wesleyan was his best yet, leading the Tigers to 32 wins and the school’s first national championship in any team sport. Christensen is already the school’s winningest coach in women’s basketball program history and in 2017-18, tied a single-season record for wins in DWU history.
Averaging a school record 80.4 points per game, the Tigers led the nation in free-throw percentage, were second in field goal percentage (48.2) and ranked third in the country in rebounding margin, out-rebounding teams by 11.9 rebounds per game for the season. The national championship earned Christensen, a native of Mitchell, NAIA national coach of the year honors.
College Women’s Team
Using a brand of tough and defensive-minded play, the Tigers claimed the NAIA Division II women’s basketball championship game in March, winning five games in six days — each by double-digits — and finishing a 32-6 record.
In an all-Great Plains Conference Championship game, the 82-59 victory over second-ranked Concordia (Neb.) in the title game March 13 provided the ultimate revenge, as the Bulldogs had won the three earlier matchups during the season. DWU drained 15 3-pointers in the championship and led by as many as 30 points, finishing with the largest margin of victory in an NAIA Division II women’s title game in 17 years. Led by coach Jason Christensen, the Tigers also beat No. 1 seeds in the quarterfinal, semifinal and championship games.
Alexandria native Kynedi Cheeseman was named the tournament’s MVP. Senior Ashley Bray was named an NAIA Division II women's basketball first-team All-American, while twin sister Amber Bray was named to the honorable mention list.
Prep Male Athlete
Nash Hutmacher, Chamberlain
For the second straight season, Hutmacher went undefeated at 285 pounds in Class A wrestling with a 46-0 record, highlighted by a highly anticipated, title-match victory over Nick Casperson, of Beresford/Alcester-Hudson, to cap his sophomore season. Through mid-December, Hutmacher had won more than 95 consecutive high school matches for the Cubs.
Hutmacher was also named to the Class 11B all-state football team for a second year in a row, and Hutmacher took third at the national freestyle wrestling championships in Fargo. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Hutmacher — who is set to graduate in 2020 — totaled 105 tackles, 10 sacks and 10 forced fumbles during the football season.
Prep Boys’ Coach
Shawn Lewis, Pierre Wrestling
The Pierre Governors continued their reign of Class A wrestling under Lewis in 2018, winning their seventh title in eight seasons. Under Lewis, who started with the program as an assistant in 2012-13 and took over in 2013, the Governors qualified 12 wrestlers for state, placing 10 including two state champions, William Turman and Michael Lusk.
Lewis credits all this success to the youth wrestling program in Pierre that teaches the kids the basic skills they need to succeed once they get to high school.
Prep Boys’ Team
Finishing the season as the only undefeated team in South Dakota, Colome won a wild Class 9B championship game over Sully Buttes, emerging victorious 48-42 in overtime in the DakotaDome on Nov. 9.
Led by second-year head coach Ben Connot, the Cowboys had four all-state selections, led by quarterback Jackson Kinzer, who accounted for more than 2,800 yards of total offense and 46 touchdowns. Beau Bertram, Chase Dufek and Layton Thieman were also selected to the Class 9B all-state squad.
In the state championship, a touchdown by Dufek in the first possession of overtime put the Cowboys up by six points, and Jaikob Week’s interception on fourth down on defense preserved the win, which is Colome’s fourth state championship in school history and the second in the last three years.
Prep Female Athlete
Paiton Burckhard, Aberdeen
Paiton Burckhard closed out her stellar prep career with a fistful of accolades after leading Aberdeen Central to its second Class AA girls basketball state championship in three years. Now a contributing member of the South Dakota State women's basketball program, Burckhard was named South Dakota Miss Basketball, Gatorade Player of the Year, Spirit of Su award winner and earned her second straight South Dakota Basketball Class AA Player of the Year. She leaves Aberdeen Central as the school's all-time leader in both points (1706) and rebounds (886).
In addition to her exploits on the basketball court, Burckhard was the Class AA state champion in the girls shot put. She also holds the Aberdeen Central school record in that event.
Prep Girls’ Coach
Darci Wassenaar, S.F. Christian Volleyball
Darci Wassenaar added another state volleyball title to the Sioux Falls Christian dynasty in 2018. The Chargers were barely challenged all weekend and capped off a perfect tournament by not dropping a set, overwhelming top-seeded Miller in the championship game, 25-17, 25-14, 25-12.
It's the eighth title in 12 years for the Chargers, all under head coach Darci Wassenaar. Of all their championship runs, this one ranks up there as one of the most dominating performances.