Huron native reaches pinnacle of SD sports success


Will be honored formally at next year's banquet

HURON — Heather Sieler Goehner will likely have a very quiet evening tonight, just as many others will, in this strange time in which we find ourselves.

Tonight is the end of the week for Goehner, the wife of Ryan and mother of Lincoln, 9,  and seven-year-old Logan. She’s a doctor of physical therapy for Pro PT who has now added the role of teacher to her daily duties in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just like many others have done.

The difference, at least in the case of Heather Sieler Goehner, is that she had other plans tonight. Instead of a quiet evening with pizza and a movie with her family, she planned to be in Sioux Falls, among a selected group of 10 people who were being inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame.

“I am proud of this achievement, but this is not necessarily something that I have been striving for or had my sights set on,” she said last week. “I have been blessed throughout my life with amazing coaches, teammates, family members, friends, and mentors. To take credit for this type of thing is just not something that I am comfortable with. I feel like this achievement is a gift and another opportunity that I have been given to share what God has done in my life.”

Hard work and a strong faith has been a constant in Goehner’s life.

“As I kept working hard and using the opportunities God had given me, I kept having success,” she said.

“It fueled me to keep going and to keep working hard at it. I feel God gave me the desire to keep going through adversity and even when I had injuries and setbacks, I realized that athletics was a gift God had given me to give Him glory and to inspire others to do the same. And, even though my athletic career ended many years ago, it has become a way for me to share what God has done in my life. I cannot talk about my athletic career and leave God out of it. They are so closely intertwined and cannot be separated."

Goehner was nominated and selected based upon her numerous achievements on the courts and the track for Huron High School, and on the hardwood for South Dakota State University, including two high school state championships, one national championship and a lifetime of memories and friendships forged in years of practice and play at the highest level.

“I loved sports - all sports - from an early age,” she recalled. “My parents were very supportive and allowed me to try all kinds of activities.” Goehner was 13 when she moved to Huron with her parents, Art and Janet and a brother in August of 1997. She is the youngest of four Sieler children and while it was tough on a 13-year-old to move to a new town, Huron quickly grew on her.

“I played soccer, tennis, golf, gymnastics, softball and the list goes on,” she said. “My second oldest sister played basketball and I grew up going to her games and cheering for her team.” From that point it was her goal to get a college basketball scholarship and she spent hours on the family driveway and in the gym to make that dream a reality.

Tim Buddenhagen was Sieler’s varsity basketball coach. He remembers a player of considerable talent who simply outworked everyone else.

“I remember one practice at the Arena,” Tim Buddenhagen says. “We’re doing defensive slides - pretty basic stuff - but she was doing the drill as hard as she could. That’s how she was. She would put everything into whatever drill we were doing and execute in great detail.”

He added that Seiler was always looking to involve a teammate prior to seeking her own shot. “I believe, since we brought her up when she was young, she had to find her way with the upperclassmen, and she carried that with her which she was working with younger teammates later. That is part of what made her such an outstanding teammate.”

She ran track for the HHS varsity as a 7th grader, and while she considered herself a sprinter, with encouragement from coaches Roger Loecker and Mark Wendelgass, tried the 800 meter run.

“My first meet was indoors in Aberdeen,” she said. “It was five laps, but I lost count of my laps and learned a great lesson that day!” Over the season, she improved, and by the end of the season earned a third-place finish at the state track meet. “I worked extremely hard, had great mentors and role models that year. It really set the stage for my success the next year.

As an 8th grader, Goehner was asked to play on the sophomore team in basketball and was starting for the varsity volleyball team by the end of the season. “I was blessed with the best coaches and teammates, and we all worked very hard. My goal was to make any team better and I think that helped my older teammates accept me, because of my work ethic.”

Her high school years are a highlight reel of success. She was part of the HHS volleyball team that won back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999, and after an ACL injury cost her her junior season, she worked hard and was rewarded by being named Miss Volleyball as a senior.

“Steph Tschetter was the first Huron athlete to be named Miss Volleyball and I was blessed to play with her and learn from her on the two state title teams. I was one of the numerous All-State volleyball players who played those years under Shelly Buddenhagen,” Goehner said.

Shelly Buddenhagen also remembers a slight eighth-grader, playing on the Tiger sophomore team, that had an undeniable effect on that year’s volleyball team.

“We were practicing, you know with the varsity on one court and the sophomores right next to it. We had started Heather as a setter, but she had the most amazing jumping ability - and we brought her over to challenge our starters. Suddenly, she is pounding home kills over players much taller.

“It was right then that we went from a pretty good team that season to a team that would win the state tournament,” she said. “I got to see someone with the most unique blend of speed, talent and athletic sense, something that I’ve not seen in anyone since.”

Former HHS track and field coach Mark Wendelgass remembers Seiler as a leader by example on the track for the Tigers.

“I watched her lead the Tiger girls’ track team to three consecutive runner-up finishes at the AA State Track Meet, along with two 3rd place finishes.”

Wendelgass said that she was considered one of the best middle-distance runners in the upper Midwest.

“Heather won many ESD Conference individual titles and ran on many ESD championship relay squads.  She won a total of seven gold medals at the State AA Track Meet during her career.”

But while she had undeniable success on the volleyball court and on the track, basketball was always her first love.

“I started playing at a young age and again, I always dreamed of playing college basketball,” she said. As a sophomore, she was part of a team that finished third in the state tournament, falling to a S.F. Roosevelt team in the semis that was in the midst of a record setting winning streak.

“We also finished second at that year’s state track meet,” Goehner said. “During those years, we were competitive in everything. I know that there were at least 12 of my teammates who went on to compete at the collegiate level in one sport of another. We had such great female athletes at that time and that made it really fun!”

After graduation, she set course for SDSU, with a basketball scholarship in hand from Jackrabbits coach Aaron Johnston. “I chose SDSU because several of my friends, my AAU teammates and I felt good about playing for coach Johnston.” Goehner added that knowing her good friend and Tiger teammate Sarita DeBoer had committed to SDSU the previous year was also a factor.

“Although the ACL caused me to miss my junior season basketball season, I felt really good about conversations with coach Johnston during the recruiting process,” she said. Johnston must have felt the same was, as he offered her a scholarship mere days after her ACL reconstruction surgery. “Coach Johnston’s trust and confidence helped me focus on what I needed to do to come back fully from that injury.”

“I was excited to be part of a program that put a high importance on academic excellence as well.”
Goehner walked into a program that was loaded and that ended her freshman year with a national NCAA Division II title. As a freshman, Goehner scored 11 points and went five-for-five from the line in the title game.

“Winning that title was definitely a highlight and remains a great memory,” she said. “I don’t remember stats, but what I do remember is have a great group of teammates. We had so much talent and such an incredible collection of ladies on that team.” Goehner points out that she was blessed to play with four of the top five scorers all time during her time there.”

During her time in Brookings, the school began the challenging transition to Division I. “We were able to play at some amazing venues during that time and we got some huge wins against really tough opponents,” Goehner recalled. “Those wins validated our hard work: it kept us striving for what we were trying to accomplish as a program. We played against some individual players, but we outworked them and played as a team to defeat them.”

Goehner said that not being able to return to the post season was disappointing, but is very happy to see where the foundation she helped put in place has helped put the Jackrabbit women’s basketball team where it is today.

“It makes it all worth it.”

She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Health Promotion at SDSU in 2006, then earned a Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2009. After four years in Yankton, she returned to Huron, this time with a husband and child. “We wanted to be closer to our families and felt that being back in Huron where God wanted us to be.”

“Heather was one of those once in a lifetime athletes that was never satisfied with her efforts.” Wendelgass said. “She always felt she could do better and work harder and she pushed herself each and every day.  Heather will tell you she would not have had all the success had it not been for her talented Huron High School teammates, many of who were tremendous athletes in their own right and went on to very successful college careers. Heather was a fierce competitor, but was also a humble leader and cared about the people around her.”

Goehner now joins other former Huron High School athletes Rod DeHaven, Amy Burnett, Cornie Collins, and Rex Swett in the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame.

The ten persons scheduled to be inducted in 2020 — Bruce Conley, Laverne Diede, Doug Eggers, Randy Fletcher , Kevin Leighton, Ronald Mitchell, Darwin Robinson, Ken Ruml and Steve Withorne — will now be inducted at next year’s South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame banquet.

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