After a season of stacking achievements, there was only one thing left to do for the Sioux Falls Christian boys basketball team: Win the program’s first state basketball championship.
In the Chargers’ back pocket was a 17-3 regular season and dramatic Region 3A championship, which moved them on to state for the first time in 14 years.
Over the weekend in Rapid City, SFC smashed defending champion Aberdeen Roncalli to open the tourney, followed with a one-sided win over Chamberlain and then raced to an early lead and held off St. Thomas More for the crown.
“Quite a season of excitement,” said Coach Mike Schouten. “To be able to play O’Gorman and Washington and get wins was really exciting for us, and the last-second buzzer-beater with Western Christian, and of course that region win over Dells by one point. Just outstanding moments for us throughout the year – capped by the state championship Saturday night.”
A state basketball tournament itself is more akin to the 400-meter dash than anything resembling long-distance, to borrow a metaphor from another sport. Hit your marks, build steam to the end and finish strong.
The trek to the state tournament, by comparison – and particularly in Class A and B in our state – is like an Ironman. Just persevere and survive the thing.
“Region 3 has definitely been a mountain to get through in our school’s history,” said senior forward Chad Barkema, “especially considering we haven’t been to state since 2002.”
Three years ago, Sioux Falls Christian went undefeated in the regular season only to fall short against Dell Rapids in the ‘3A’ championship.
Two weeks ago, SFC dug out of a 41-27 halftime deficit to nip the Quarriers after losing to Dell Rapids twice during the season. Dell Rapids point guard Ty Hoglund was transcendent in the game’s first half, but the Chargers largely shut the senior down in the second on their way to a 60-59 win. As many as 4,000-plus packed the Elmen Center to see Barkema ice the game at the foul line.
Many people at the game, on social media — and in passing conversation – might argue it was the state championship game we all deserved.
“That was an incredible win and one of the most exciting atmospheres I’ve ever played in,” Barkema said. “So it was definitely a springboard … to go into state. But we knew it wasn’t over, and we still had a lot of tough teams to battle.”
But when you battle tough teams every week, the state tournament – outside of the obvious gravity of each game – seems less daunting. SFC’s opponents combined for an absurd 258-135 regular-season record.
“We knew we were a talented team but we also knew we had to earn our way to the championship,” Barkema said. “It wasn’t going to be given to us, and our coach encouraged us to play hard and play together and do what we’ve been doing all season.”
In the end, SFC leaned on its trademark defense and balance. Barkema finished the tournament averaging 18 points a game (fourth-best in the tourney), was the second-most efficient scorer (22-of-34 from the field), led the field in blocks with eight (six came in the semis alone) and pitched in 13 assists (also fourth-best).
“What stuck out the most was just how close we were as a team the entire tournament,” Barkema said. “We bonded so much and it was a lot of fun to win it together. It was truly a brotherhood and a family that we had.”
He had some help. DeJay Fykstra had 22 rebounds and helped score and distribute, sophomore guard Lincoln Unruh was a threat to score each time out, Austin Schreur added to the team’s inside edge and Keegan Van Egdom came up big Friday and Saturday.
“We’re just thrilled to get that historical win for our school’s sake,” Schouten said, “and of course we’re happy for ourselves, too, to be the guys and the team to do it. A lot of happiness and joy. And also a sense of relief to finally break that barrier and get that state championship for our school.”
Sioux Falls Christian won the marathon, then the sprint for its first-ever championship.
“It’s really just a credit to our players,” Schouten said. “They knew it. They could see the importance of it, and they just kind of went out of their way to make it happen. … Just being able to make lifetime memories for these kids, that was fun.”