As the seconds counted down in the Class A girls’ state championship game, Bella Swedlund thought it was a dream.
The Winner guard had been thinking about this moment since she was a kid, and right in front of her, at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls, that dream was coming true.
At 24-0, the Warriors were about to be state champions.
“We worked really hard, we all love each other, it’s what we do, it’s us,” she said following Winner’s 60-53 win over West Central for the title. “We’ve known each other all our lives and we all wanted this goal that we set however many years ago. Dreams come true.”
It wouldn’t be an easy dream to achieve. Although it was undefeated, Winner came in as the No. 2 seed in the tournament. That’s because the team it beat in the title, West Central, came into the title game boasting a 24-0 record.
In a battle of heavyweights, Winner was able to withstand more punches. In the second half, it was able to deliver a knockout blow of its own.
The Warriors led 15-14 at the end of the first quarter, but at halftime they trailed the Trojans 36-32.
In the third quarter, Winner outscored West Central 16-8 to lead 48-44, and a 12-9 fourth quarter to the first undefeated season in school history in the books.
“It’s about the girls. We talk about making memories, and that’s what it’s all about,” Winner coach Larry Aaker said. “For them to have this memory, what a lifetime thing. Nobody can take this away from them. They mean a lot to me and I’d do anything for them.”
Morgan Hammerbeck said the goal at the start of the season wasn’t only to complete the dream of winning the state title, but to do it in style. Having an unblemished record was also on the Warriors’ list of things they wanted to accomplish in 2019, and they were able to do it.
She, along with other starters, were taken out with roughly 12 seconds left so some of the seniors that worked hard to build the program but hadn’t seen the court yet in the championship had a chance to get into a state title game.
That’s when she said she could relax, and realize that all of the 6 a.m. workouts Aakers and the staff had put her and her teammates through during the offseason, had paid off. The Warriors were state champions.
“It’s been a goal of ours since the summer and it feels really good to have it finally come true and end on a high note. We played hard all the way to the end, but when it got down to like 12 seconds and we had subs, that’s when it kind of hit,” she said. “We have a lot of people, freshmen to seniors, and everyone plays fantastic with each other and we all get along. It’s pretty fun.”
Aakers said the seniors who don’t always see the court are just as important a part in the championship as the ones who see more time, and with the state title in hand he felt it was important for them to see some time on the court to have the memory of being on the floor when Winner brought home a state title.
“These things aren’t just built overnight, they’re built over years, over those summers,” he said. “The girls are willing to put in that time, and it starts with our seniors.”
Although the goal was a state title and an undefeated season at the start of the season, Aakers said he made sure the team knew about the baby steps required to reach that goal.
First, he wanted the Warriors to clinch a first round bye in the regional tournament, then he wanted them to advance to the state tournament, and be a top four seed.
Once that was accomplished, the focus turned into not overlooking opponents in the biggest tournament of the season.
“You can’t look ahead to Saturday, you first have to take care of business Thursday,” he said. “Once Thursday is done we’ll focus on Friday and once Friday is done we’ll focus on Saturday.”
That’s exactly what happened. After a tight 59-55 win in the quarterfinals over Aberdeen Roncalli, the Warriors took care of business against McCook Central/Montrose 66-44 before taking care of business against the Trojans.
Winner shot 20-of-55 for 36.4 percent from the field while West Central was 20-of-62, including 6-of-31 for 19.4 percent in the second half, from the field for 32.2 percent.
The Trojans were led by Kali Nelson who had 20 and Addy Kramer who had 11. Gabriel Kocher led Winner with 21, Swedlund kicked in 12 and Kella Bertram had 10.
Boys title game
TEA AREA 68, SIOUX FALLS CHRISTIAN 57: The Titans used a big third quarter as it scored the win over Sioux Falls Christian in the Class A boys’ state title game in Sioux Falls on Saturday night.
The first half was fairly even, with Christian taking a 15-12 into the second, followed by a 30-27 advantage into the half.
Tea Area battled back in a big way in the third quarter and outscored the Chargers 21-6 for a 48-36 lead going into the final eight minutes of the season.
Although Sioux Falls Christian outscored the Titans 21-20 in the fourth, the lead was too much as Tea Area held on for the win.
Justin Hohn led the Titans with 19 points; Noah Freidel added 17 points, Kade Stearns had 12 points and Kaleb Joffer finished with 10. Freidel led the team in rebounds with 12.
Zach Witte paced the Chargers with 17 points, Gavin Schipper chipped in with 12 points and Mitchell Oostra added 11.
Tea Area closed out the season at 25-1, while Christian finished at 21-3.