The fall sports season was kind to Sioux Falls – and that might be putting it lightly.
Among the seven fall sports, including both club and sanctioned soccer, Sioux Falls schools came away with eight state championships
In fact, the only Class AA (or AAA in one case) titles that settled elsewhere were girls cross country and girls sanctioned soccer. Some championships were carryovers from a year ago – Washington softball, Roosevelt girls soccer, Lincoln boys cross country and O’Gorman girls tennis.
Others, like the Patriots’ inaugural 11AAA football run and the Knights’ redemptive volleyball title, were season-long stories in the making.
There were showdowns that pitted the city against itself as rivals met for a second, third or even fourth time with everything at stake. In the end, O’Gorman captured the fall with four state championships while Lincoln had three and Washington and Roosevelt one apiece, although the Rough Riders also notched four runner-up finishes.
So before we dig in for winter sports, which are sure to be open to the rest of the state, let’s put a bow on the fall season with a (chronological) look back at the championship highlights and the athletes who provided them.
Amirah Michaeli had the opportunity all young ballplayers dream up – trailing with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the last inning – and she jumped on it.
Facing an 0-2 count, the Washington junior homered to left for a walk-off grand slam the lifted the Warriors to a 6-3 win over Roosevelt for their third straight title. She finished the day 2-for-4 with five RBI.
“I’ve never been involved with anything quite like that. That was crazy,” said Washington coach Scott Powell, whose team finished the season 27-7. “As soon as it came off the bat, I knew it was gone.”
Class of the links
The Knights’ third boys golf title in four years was delivered in a way that not many would have predicted as the team clinched without using the score of their No. 1 golfer, senior Max Donohue, on the final day.
Part of the reason for that was a solid two rounds from senior Chris Gaher, who played the Brandon Golf Course to par, forcing a sudden-death playoff with defending individual champion Tommy Vining.
The playoff didn’t last long with Vining winning on the first hole, giving Sioux Falls the golf sweep.
“I’ve worked so hard,” said Vining, who committed to Minnesota a month later. “I didn’t play the way I wanted to this whole season. I just worked so hard and it all came out – all my sweat and tears.”
Youth on the pitch
All season, O’Gorman had turned to sophomore Alyssa Weidler and freshman Theresa Pujado for scoring, and the duo delivered even on the biggest stage.
Weidler scored twice in the Knights’ 3-1 semifinal win over Groton Area, while Pujado, who also added a goal in the win, accounted for all of the scoring in a 2-0 state championship victory over Aberdeen Central.
Pujado put O’G (9-1-4) on the board with a long goal in the 32nd minute and padded the lead with another goal eight minutes later against a Golden Eagle team that defeated the Knights 2-0 for last year’s championship.
A tennis dynasty
The question entering the state tennis tournament wasn’t if O’Gorman was going to win, but rather if they had enough to challenge the tourney record for points.
The Knights provided a firm answer by winning five of singles six flights and sweeping all three doubles championships on the way to a record 764 points and a seventh consecutive state title.
Junior Morgan Brower capped another stellar season with her third straight No. 1 singles and doubles titles.
“This run of seven straight and the tradition since it started, it’s bigger than me or this group,” said O’Gorman coach Don Barnes.
Pats return to top
Rapid City Stevens traveled to Sioux Falls as the top-ranked and top-seeded team for the Class AA state boys club soccer tournament, but it was Lincoln that finished on top.
The Patriots returned all-state forward Adam Belhaj just in time for another championship run, however, Cesar Cuellar provided the firepower with a pair of first-half goals as Lincoln earned its sixth state title with a 2-0 shutout of the Raiders.
Cuellar’s goals in the 24th and 30th minutes guided an aggressive effort from Lincoln, which ended the season 10-1-2 with 47 goals scored and 12 goals allowed.
Riders roll on
From Taylor Machacek’s impressive senior campaign in goal to Nicole Hatcher’s ability to score and assist to Grace Behm’s game-winner in the state championship, Roosevelt had it all this season.
Behm’s goal in the 78th minute of the Class AA state girls club championship earned the Riders (13-0-0) earned their second title over Lincoln in as many years.
“That means a lot,” said senior defender Ricki Yasgar. “State is a whole different thing. Everybody comes to play hard. But to play hard all season and come away with that kind of record, that’s not something that happens very often.”
Lincoln runs away
There wasn’t a better pack of runners in the state than the Lincoln boys, who placed all seven state meet qualifiers in the top 20.
Will Lauer (16:00.1), Free Bump (16:09.2) and Nathan Schroeder (6:18.95) led the way, finishing second through fourth as the Patriots won their second state title in as many years by a convincing 63-point margin over runner-up Roosevelt.
The title also capped a season in which the Pats didn’t lose an in-state meet.
“It’s scary how good they can be on their best day,” said Lincoln coach Eric Pooley.
There wasn’t much of a question as to the two best teams in 11AAA football this season and Caden Quintanilla made sure there were no doubts as to who was on top.
Lincoln’s senior running back churned out 244 yards and four touchdowns on the ground to solidify the Patriots’ first-ever perfect season (11-0) with a 47-24 win over Roosevelt in the state championship.
Quintanilla’s 80-yard TD run in the first quarter greased the axles after the Riders jumped out to a 10-0 lead, including an interception return for a touchdown off junior quarterback Isaiah Roach, who was starting in place of injured senior Connor Burchill.
But Roach recovered to hit Dylan Bartow for a TD late in the opening quarter, and after a slew of points, Burchill marched out to take a knee for the final snaps of the season.
The Knights rising
The fall finale saw Westside rivals O’Gorman and Roosevelt square off for the fourth time as the Knights offered a swift sweep for their first state title since 2002. The two teams were ranked 1-2 for the majority of the season.
The championship erased any lingering memories of last season’s collapse in which the top-seeded Knights suffered a first-round upset.
O’Gorman (23-1) rebounded with 19 consecutive wins to open the season and closed strong as Taryn Kloth led the way with 55 kills over the three-day tournament, including 20 in the championship match.
“They played fantastic,” said Roosevelt coach Holly Lynch. “They played like a state champion.”