Sioux Falls Christian entered the 2016-17 boys basketball season ranked No. 1 in Class A and opened with wins over Lennox and West Central by an average of 29 points.
The defending champion Chargers were headed in the right direction and primed for another title run.
After a couple of setbacks by Class AA opponents in Washington and O’Gorman, SFC won five straight before suffering a three-point loss to Madison at home on Jan. 20. That win launched Madison to the top of the ‘A’ rankings and they’ve now won nine of their last 10 games against South Dakota opponents.
Madison carries an 18-4 record into the state tournament Thursday-Saturday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center as the Bulldogs seek their fifth title in the last nine years.
“Those games between us and Madison are always competitive and intense, and that (Jan. 20) game wasn’t any different,” SFC coach Mike Schouten said. “It helped springboard them to the No. 1 seed. It got them seed points, and it probably hurt us.”
The fourth-seeded Chargers (18-5) ended the season with a three-point loss at Tri-Valley but rebounded with three wins in the postseason, including a 39-point victory over Sisseton in the Sweet 16 qualifying round. The Chargers are a high-scoring bunch, averaging 74 points per game, led by junior Koln Oppold (15 ppg) and senior Dejay Fykstra (11.6 ppg).
“We definitely have some kids who can score. We’ve got shooters,” Schouten said. “We’re moving the ball really well and that’s getting us open shots. When we have open shots, good things happen. That’s the key to us putting up some big numbers — getting good, open shots.”
The potential for an SFC vs. Madison rematch looms in the semifinal round, but Madison will have to get past Dakota Valley (12-10) in the first round. SFC opens with Mount Vernon/Plankington (19-3), and the Chargers aren’t taking their opponent lightly.
“We have a pretty good feel for what they do, and they play very hard, have good shooters and are quick,” Schouten said. “We’ll have to play good ball that day because if we don’t, they are good enough to beat us for sure.”
Sixth-seeded Tea Area (18-4) is seeking its first state title and has a tough test against St. Thomas More (17-5) in the opening round. The Titans finished second in 2013 and third in 2014. To get another crack at the championship, Tea Area will have to stop a St. Thomas More squad that features senior center Isaac Kortemeyer, who averages 13.8 points per game.
“We played them at the state tournament in 2014, and his name stands out for sure,” Titans coach Chris Fechner said. “He’s a pretty good big man, but fortunately for us and the conference that we’re in, we usually see a skilled big man every night. It’s going to take a team effort to beat them.”
Tea Area counters with a young squad as three sophomores start for the Titans. Senior Ethan Freidel is the leading scorer for the Titans, averaging 22 points per game, while 6-foot-4 sophomore Noah Freidel averages 17 points and a team-high six rebounds.
Patience will play a role for the Titans against St. Thomas More. The Cavaliers average just 59 points per game and eat up a lot of shot clock on nearly every possession.
“We’ve lately been facing teams that are much more active offensively,” Fechner said. “Teams in our conference get shots up. We know we could be in some long defensive possessions.”
The tournament has the makings for a dandy as all eight teams have a legitimate shot at the title. Two of the hottest teams in the tournament right now are the lowest seeded. No. 7 seed Tri-Valley (17-6) has won eight straight and eighth-seeded Dakota Valley has won six of its last seven, including a Region 4 win over Vermillion, which finished the regular season with a record of 16-3.