HURON — Three area basketball teams were hoping to be still celebrating a run at a state championship today, instead they are left wondering if they will ever get a shot at closing the 2019-2020 on the court.
All six of the State Basketball Tournaments remained postponed at this time by the South Dakota High School Activities Association due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, which has spread across the nation.
The Huron boys had earned the No. 2 seed for the Class AA State Tournament, which was scheduled for March 19-21 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls.
“Initially, there is a lot of disappointment, frustration, and sadness. You are thinking that this can’t be the way it ends,” coach Jon Schouten said of learning the tournament had been postponed. “You feel robbed of the chance to compete for the state title that you’ve been working all year for.
“As I sat and watched as other states were canceling their tournaments, I just kept thinking...”please don’t do that in SD.. postpone it and try to find a way to get the tournaments in,” he said.
The De Smet boys had earned the No. 1 seed for the Class B State Tournament, which was slated for March 19-21 at the Barnett Center in Aberdeen.
“I was on the way to Spearfish with 10 of the boys when we heard that the NCAA was cancelling March Madness and we could not believe that could happen. Ten minutes later I was informed by coach Doug Osthus that the girls’ first round game was going to be limited to 125 tickets,” De Smet boys’ coach Jeff Gruenhagen said. “We were very happy that the boys’ team was able to attend that game.
“We had 14 guys in Spearfish to watch the girls games and practice each day for our tournament. We were getting ready for practice in Spearfish on Friday morning when our superintendent informed us that the boys’ and girls’ B tourney would be postponed and that we would not be able to practice,” he said. “The boys were very disappointed to say the least. I also could not believe that this was happening. My only explanation to the boys was that the health officials and SDHSAA just needed time to sort out procedures to make sure it was safe to proceed.”
While the Huron and De Smet boys’ teams were still awaiting the arrival of their state tournaments, the De Smet girls’ team was in the process of defending their state championship from a year earlier when the news broke. In fact, the sixth-seeded Lady Bulldogs had recorded a 50-45 victory over third-seeded Faulkton Area in the opening round of the Class B Girls’ State Tournament on March 12 in Spearfish.
“It was a very difficult weekend for everyone involved,” De Smet girls’ basketball coach Doug Osthus said. “From having attendance cut to 125 on Day 1 for night session, to the news Friday morning on the postponement. It was very difficult for girls and coaches as well to deal with.
“There are obviously many different views on how this could have been handled,” he said. “The thing is, we are all in the same boat as a student athlete and coach.”
Despite the initial shock that spread throughout the state, all three coaches believe the postponement was the best way to handle what had been dealt to the SDHSAA officials.
“I think other states and professional organizations jumped the gun a little bit in cancelling everything right away. I was happy to see the SDHSAA didn’t act too hastily. They took time and decided to postpone the events which allows them more time to make more thorough decisions,” Schouten said. “We are still hopeful that the tournaments wills be rescheduled and the kids will have their chance to compete for a state title. The format of the tournament will probably look different than what we are used to but that’s OK. All we can ask for is the opportunity to play and send our seniors out the right way.”
Gruenhagen had hoped that a less populated state such as South Dakota might not feel the full effect of what was transpiring, but in the end he agreed with the decision being made.
“I was under the impression that we could proceed in South Dakota since our communities are so small and do not deal with fans or teams using airports or traveling from very long distances,” Gruenhagen said. “As we have learned more with the rapid spread and the limited health care resources in our state, it seems like they are doing the right thing to be cautious.”
Although it was extremely tough on the members of his teams, Osthus believes it is something they will rise above in the long run whether they get a chance to play the remainder of the tournament or not.
“I feel what is important to remember is that the state tournament is for most players one of the most important events in their lives to this point. We need to remember its okay for these kids to be extremely disappointed and even angry. Their commitment and hard work they put into this goal was taken from them in a very short period of time!” Osthus said. “Nobody is at fault, it just is what it is! These kids are stronger than most people realize! They will continue to hope they eventually get their chance to finish the race. They will handle whatever decision comes their way in a positive manner.”
Affected the most by the current situation are the seniors are this three teams.
Huron had eight seniors this season — Landon Hegg, Hayden Hegg, Cooper Fryberger, Teegan Evers, Kobe Busch, Nathan Boehrns, Zach Kopfmann and Allen Bogh.
“My conversations with our guys have been fairly limited. The guys I have talked with have expressed a great deal of disappointment and frustration that the reward - state tournament and a chance at the state title - could be taken away from them,” Schouten said. “These guys have done everything that has been asked of them during their career and have done it with a smile and a willingness that not a lot of kids have. They have been incredible ambassadors for the Huron community and for our program. They deserve the chance to play out the tournament and pursue their goal of that state title.”
The De Smet boys have just three seniors — Dom Hansen, Baylor Beck and Andrew Holland.
“Our team is quite disappointed with the situation and they know the seniors will not get this chance back,” Gruenhagen said. “While we are a young team that would expect to get back next year again, the boys know that there is no guarantee that you get through the region and SoDak 16. They did that this year and had the goal of returning to the championship game again.
“I think it is just hard for them to process that we may come up short of our goals without being able to compete and prove that we can do it,” he said.
Closing their high school careers for the De Smet girls’ basketball team this season are Emily Martens, Michelle Wiese, Reyna Beck and Autumn Wilkinson.
“If you see these student athletes tell them how much you appreciate watching them, congratulate them on the success they have had as opposed to talking about what could have been. They deserve it!” Osthus said. “In the meantime we will all hope for the best for many reasons!”
With schools across the state remaining closed due to the COVID-19 situation it leaves the fate of the state tournaments and a chance for these players to close their seasons on the court in limbo.
“We are currently under the “off-season” training rules which means, as coaches we cannot have contact with our athletes,” Schouten said. “If they get the state tournament rescheduled, we will be given time to get back together and work with our athletes in preparation for the tournament.”
Gruenhagen echoed those same sentiments.
“I do not know if they will be able to play these tourneys or not. I think if they do, it would be with very limited fans,” Gruenhagen said. “Preparation will be difficult to get back to game shape and ready to perform at the same level as the region tournament. I think with a week or so of practice we could be ready to compete.
“I know it seems like a small thing in perspective to what is going on in our country, but basketball is a very big part of the small towns we live in and it really drives these boys to work and stick together preparing to accomplish their goals,” he said. “However this turns out they will stay together and move forward together.”