High School Boys Basketball

Cossacks embrace new role at state tournament

Entering as third seed, Sioux Valley faces Rapid City Christian in quarterfinals on Thursday night


VOLGA — For many teams, the state tournament can be an overwhelming experience. Being in a new city, playing in a different arena and playing an unfamiliar opponent can require an adjustment period for teams that have made it this far, but that’s not the case for the Sioux Valley Cossacks.

The Cossacks are making their fifth straight trip to the State Class A Boys Basketball Tournament in Rapid City this weekend and as they prepare for Thursday night’s quarterfinal matchup with Rapid City Christian, they’re embarking on a familiar but different experience.

“It’s always exciting to be playing basketball at this time of the year and to be going to another state basketball tournament,” Sioux Valley head coach Bill Vincent said. “The guys definitely have the experience of having been there…but it’s a little different field with a lot of people in the past couple of years that have come and gone and you see a different style of play sometimes.”

One of the changes for the Cossacks is their standing coming into the tournament. Sioux Valley has been a mainstay and a potential title contender in their past couple of appearances but this year’s trip represents a challenge as the third seed.

While the Cossacks are in a great position to come away with a state title, other schools such as second-seeded Hamlin (20-3), who defeated the Cossacks 80-48 on Feb. 5 and top-seeded Sioux Valley Chrisitan, who enters the tournament with a perfect record of 23-0, are the favorites.

The field hasn’t limited the Cossacks’ goals of winning the state title but has given them a new role to embrace heading into the tournament.

“We have the same winning attitude and the same goals but we believe that we’re coming in as more of an underdog,” Vincent said. “At the same time, it’s a field of really good teams that could knock off anybody on any given day.”

The field gives life to the cliche “one game at a time” as it will be the best approach for Sioux Valley to compete in the tournament. Their opening-round matchup with the Comets is a rematch of the Cossacks’ 71-65 victory during the Hanson Classic in Mitchell on Jan. 20 but that came without RC Christian standout Benson Kieffer, who averages 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.

The Comets also feature Simon Kieffer, who averages 15.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game and Wilson Kieffer, who averages 6.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and Julius Frog (15.6 points, 6.4 rebounds per game) parenting a much different team than the one they saw in January.

But the Cossacks also believe they’re a different team than they were during that game. Sioux Valley started the season by winning their first 14 games of the season before losing back-to-back games to Class B qualifier De Smet and Hamlin before winning their last seven games to close the season.

“I think the thing that’s helped us the most is that we’ve healed up from some injuries and kind of the illness bug,” Vincent said of the recent stretch. “It not only got us into a better routine and a deeper rotation but it also helps with your attitude when you’re feeling good and your friends and teammates are feeling good.”

South Dakota State commit Alec Squires has been one player that has turned it on down the stretch, averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds on the season. Squires is also coming off his best game of the season, scoring 22 points, grabbing 20 rebounds and blocking four shots in a 68-57 win over Lakota Tech in the Class A SoDak 16.

With Maxwell Engebretson (15.0 points, 5.0 assists per game) and Maverick Nelson (12.0 points, four rebounds per game) manning the perimeter, the Cossacks are a deeper team than the Comets saw in January.

“Both teams will look and feel a lot different,” Vincent said. “We feel like we’re an improved team since that matchup and we were very fortunate to win that game that night. We just handled their pressure well and made some big shots at the end of that game.”

It sets the Cossacks up with a tall order in front of them to open the tournament. While bigger matchups may loom, Vincent says his team’s focus is on Thursday night and is willing to let whatever happens dictate how Sioux Valley finishes the tournament.

“It all starts with game No. 1,” Vincent said. “We’ll have to go all in on that game and see what happens after that.”