The participants in one of the best early-season games are separated by 350 miles.
Since 2010-11, the girls basketball teams at St. Thomas More and Sioux Falls Washington have posted a combined record of 255-40. They have both appeared in four of their respective classes’ last five state championship games, collecting six rings over that time.
The Cavaliers and Warriors are two of the state’s premier programs and on Saturday, they’ll square off for the third year in-a-row.
“We love having that game on our schedule,” Washington coach Jamie Parish said. “It’s a unique scouting report when you go over them because they can do some very high-level things.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s turned into a rivalry, but it’s turned into great basketball games,” added St. Thomas More coach Brandon Kandolin. “You have two great teams with great players on both sides. That to me is what it should be about, the ability to watch two great teams play.”
They are two highly-competitive, highly-successful programs, and their regular-season meetings have proven to be mutually beneficial for the teams and an intriguing matchup for the fans.
However, a discussion among the 18 Class AA activities directors leaves the potential of future meetings between the Warriors and Cavaliers in murky waters.
The proposal would decrease the point value of beating a team from a lower class by one point. That may seem like an insignificant change, but that one-point shift could be the difference between hosting a regional final or not.
It will likely be a topic of discussion at the basketball advisory meeting in February, though it’s worth noting that a similar proposal was defeated by the SDHSAA Volleyball Advisory committee earlier this week.
“The point of it was, when there’s situations where there’s a AA school that is playing double-digits of their scheduled games against non-Class AA opponents, there’s some concern that it’s not reflected as accurately as it could be in the points system,” SDHSAA executive director John Krogstrand said Friday night. “The other proposal that’s out there on the table and being discussed is a 1-16 playoff as opposed to the districts and regions, just bracketing a straight 16 teams, play one game and the top eight move on, type of a concept. Certainly, points would become equally, if not more important there.”
The motives behind the proposal are clear, but so too is the collateral damage.
“It hurts some of these possibilities for good games, good matchups,” Kandolin said. “I’m just looking down the road, I see (Class C2) Crofton in Nebraska. They get to play (Sioux Falls AA teams) and they’re a quality team. Who would not want to play them? That’s a shame if we’re not going to be able to play good teams.”
Parish was emphatic in explaining his stance against altering the point system, but did acknowledge that such a change would likely necessitate a change in how they handle scheduling.
“If there was a change in the formula that penalizes a team for playing down, we may need to reconfigure our schedule,” he said. “Even though the competition is great, it would hurt us over the long term, lowering our chances to host district games and state tournament seeding.”
Playing the higher-level of competition aside, there are other benefits in scheduling Washington for St. Thomas More.
“Typically they play a zone, which we see a lot of zone, but sometimes the zone that we see isn’t quite as prepared or athletic as the one that Washington is going to bring,” Kandolin said. “They’ve got great depth. A lot of times, Class A schools don’t have nearly the depth that some of these bigger schools have. It’s great to see what’s out there, see what we need to work on and get to see something different like that.”
On the flip side, the Cavaliers present a unique challenge for the Warriors.
“They’re very, very structured and very precise with all of the stuff they do,” Parish said. “At that level, you might have kids playing (varsity) for multiple years, so they can be a lot more detail-oriented with some of the things they do.”
PREVIEWING THE GAME
Both coaches admitted that, given the timing, this year’s matchup may be a little rough around the edges as they both work to try and establish roles and rotations. Nonetheless, Saturday’s cross-class clash still has the potential to be an early-season classic.
“I’m sure both teams are going to be rusty,” Kandolin said. “But what a great way to see where each team is at. You get to see early, some of the chemistry makeup that you’re going to need to change up, things you need to work on. I like that it’s a game that’s very early.”
The Cavaliers are led by Utah signee Dru Gylten. Rated a three-star recruit by ESPN, the senior guard averaged 7.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.1 blocks last season. Gylten posted 12 points in STM’s 57-5 win over Hot Springs on Tuesday.
“She’s one of the more talented players I’ve had in terms of the basketball knowledge,” Kandolin said. “She sees the floor well; she anticipates defensively. She can create, whether it’s for someone else to get an open shot or for her to get to the basket. She’s just very versatile that way.”
Inside, STM leans on senior Ashley Wojcik and 6-foot-1 junior Aislinn Duffy, who has shown an ability to step out and knock down outside shots.
“They’re meticulous, the way they operate,” Parish said. “I give their coaches a lot of credit.”
As for Washington, the Warriors feature plenty of new faces, but there’s some experience within that group.
Jayda Cunningham, who along with Taylor VanderVelde played in all 25 games last season, drew high praise from her head coach for her improvement over the course of her junior year, in particularly as a leader.
“The take-charge and the mental aspect of the game, those are things that just take time to learn,” Parish said. “She’s just gradually improved every single day since she walked in the door here, but what we’ve really seen is she’s kind of taken on that leadership role. Instead of just knowing what the point guard is supposed to do, she knows what everyone is supposed to do. She’s in charge of what we’re doing, she’s communicating and along with that, she’s a lot more confident, making shots when she’s open and being more aggressive when we need her to.”
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen .
Story updated to reflect: Proposal for point changes (one-point change rather than dropping it to 44 as was previously stated) and the source of the proposal (Class AA activity directors, not the SDHSAA).