High school boys basketball: In familiar territory, Sioux Valley Cossacks look to bring home state title

LEFT: Sioux Valley forward Alec Squires dunks during a game against Deuel at the Cossack Center in Volga on Feb. 7. RIGHT: Sioux Valley forward Oliver Vincent drives into the lane against DeSmet at the Entringer Classic at Bob Jostad Gymnasium in Brookings on Dec. 31. (Left: Jason Salzman/salzmanstudios.smugmug.com/Right: Chris Schad/Brookings Register)

VOLGA – When the Sioux Valley Cossacks arrive at the state tournament, they’ll be in a position they’ve been in before.

The Cossacks have competed in the Class A tourney in the past two seasons and qualified as the second seed with a 22-1 record before the 2020 state tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With back-to-back runner-up finishes, Sioux Valley is looking to bring home an elusive state championship but it will take more than their experience to win the title.

“Experience always helps, but it’s not something that you can just rely on,” Sioux Valley head coach Bill Vincent said. “You have a fresh group of players and in each season, each team is on its own journey. You have to earn it when you get to the tournament.”

The fourth-seeded Cossacks’ path to earning the title begins on Thursday when they battle fifth-seeded Hamlin in the Class A State Quarterfinals at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls. Sioux Valley enters the quarterfinal with a 21-2 record but it hasn’t been just one player that has gotten them to this point.

Oliver Vincent (20 ppg), Alec Squires (15 ppg) and Patrick Carey (14 ppg) are all averaging double-figures in the starting lineup while Sioux Valley has nine players who are averaging five or more points per game. That depth has produced a different hero each night as nine players have scored 15 or more points in a game this season.

“We’ve had a lot of players that have stepped up,” Bill Vincent said. “It seems like it’s a different guy each night and that kind of goes alone with our everyday scorers, but it seems like someone else is going to step up and exceed our expectations for that particular evening and that’s fun to see.”

That balance has been met with a fast pace style that opposing teams will look to slow down. That mainly goes for the Cossacks’ quarterfinals opponent as Hamlin has held opposing teams to just 42.2 points per game.

Hamlin also has similar balance on the offensive end led by Tyson Stevenson’s 14.6 points per game. With Brennan Keezler (11.5 ppg) and Easton Neuendorf (13.0 ppg) both in double figures, it creates a challenge for the Cossacks but one that they passed with a 69-65 win at the Throwback Classic in Sioux Falls on Jan. 10.

“We caught a couple of breaks in that game,” Bill Vincent said of the previous meeting. “A little luck was involved. It was a hard-fought game and I thought we just had a couple of things go our way at the end of the game to get out of there with a win.”

Bill Vincent also believes that the familiarity between the Lake Central Conference foes will lead to another tight battle at the state tournament.

“It’s two good teams out of the LCC, so we’re both very familiar with each other,” Bill Vincent said. “It’s also two teams that are capable of going on a run at the state tournament, so we’re expecting another toss-up game.”

If the Cossacks get past the Chargers, they’ll have to get through a Class A field that has several teams that can make a run at the state title.

Top-seeded Dakota Valley is the defending state champion and is riding a 50-game winning streak heading into the tournament. The Cossacks were one of two teams to defeat St. Thomas More this season and Sioux Falls Christian won in Volga in their final game of the regular season.

With Elk Point-Jefferson, Mount Vernon/Plankton and Hot Springs also scoring key SoDak 16 wins, Bill Vincent believes it could be a wide-open tournament.

“I think when you get to this stage, everyone’s going to do their homework and know all of the teams extremely well,” Bill Vincent said. “Dakota Valley comes into the tournament as the clear-cut favorite…but there’s a group of teams on any given night capable of pulling off an upset. If that happens, things become wide open for any of the teams in this tournament.”

Will Bill Vincent also believes his team is playing its best basketball of the season, he also knows that the other seven teams in the tournament can say the same thing, which means the Cossacks have to work harder to come away with the state title.

“We’re coming in as a confident team but you can’t rely on that because everybody’s in that boat at this time of the year,” Bill Vincent said. “You have got to work extremely hard, be well prepared and go into the state tournament confident and you have to get lucky because you have some really good teams in the state tournament.”