FLANDREAU — The Flandreau Fliers and the Sioux Valley Cossacks met on Friday night in a battle of two teams looking to make a playoff run. While the Fliers came out on top with a 49-37 win, both teams walked out of the gym encouraged over their performance and where they could be headed in the next couple of weeks.
“It was a big game for our girls after a week off, but we knew our opponent very well,” Flandreau head coach Megan Severtson said after her team faced Sioux Valley for the second straight game after defeating the Cossacks 55-29 in the Big East Tournament championship game in Volga on Jan. 27. “You have to make sure that your team is focused on moving forward and not on prior games. I thought going into this game that Sioux Valley is just a good team and a lot of things went our way during the conference tournament so we knew tonight was going to be a battle.”
The battle began early on as Flandreau’s defense set the tone. The Fliers entered Friday’s game allowing 30 points or less in each of their last eight games and Severtson believes the strength of her defense comes from the length of the roster.
With sisters Claire and Morgan Sheppard standing at 6-foot-2 and a stable of 5-foot-11 players Lily Klein, Hannah Krull, Lizzie Pavlis and Hailey Lahr, the Fliers are a matchup nightmare for any team and helped Flandreau take an 11-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 30-20 lead into halftime.
“It helps when you have really athletic, long girls,” Severtson said of her defense. “It makes teaching our girls a lot easier, but our girls have really committed to being disciplined defensively.”
While the Fliers typically put the clamps on their opponents, Sioux Valley did just enough to stay in the game. One of the biggest keys was the Cossacks’ ability to knock down open shots and something that had Sioux Valley within a couple of points midway through the third quarter.
“We were still just a couple of shots short, but we had some looks,” Granum said. “We knew the first time we played them, we had some open shots. So we thought coming into this one, we had to make those open shots, some open 3-pointers and free throws. I was just super happy with where our turnovers were at and super happy with how we competed.”
While Sioux Valley remained in the game, the Fliers ultimately had too much to overcome and stretched the lead to 38-29 at the end of the third quarter.
Claire Sheppard was the highlight for the Fliers as she scored 19 points and dished out four assists and such a performance was no surprise to Granum, who coached Sheppard with the South Dakota Cyclones AAU team the past two seasons.
“Claire is just an outstanding individual person and character,” Granum said of Claire Sheppard, who is committed to play at South Dakota State next season. “She has a tremendous work ethic. She’s a great teammate that deserves all of the accolades and there’s a reason she’s going to be playing at SDSU. I get the skill part of it, but she’s just a competitor. She’s one of those players you love to have on your team. I know I’m a rival now, but I have so much respect just for her and her game and how she leads her team.”
But while Claire Sheppard performed at her usual level, it’s the Fliers’ balance that sets them apart. Pavlis scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds while Klein had 10 points and seven rebounds to help Flandreau out-score the Cossacks 11-8 in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.
“We have a lot of girls that are very capable on the court,” Severtson said of the Fliers’ balance. “When you can trust your teammates to make good decisions and knock down shots, it makes our offense flow very smoothly.”
Despite their 15-0 record and status as the No. 2 team in Class A according to the state basketball polls released on Jan. 29, Severtson believes there are some areas where the Fliers can get better as they head down the stretch.
“I think it’s important to focus on improvement,” Severtson said. “We have areas that we know we can get better at, so I think going into these next six games, it’s just going to be about putting full games together where we’re competitive and we’re disciplined.”
While the Fliers are primed for a deep run, the Cossacks also had their reasons to be optimistic. Isabelle Bloker had nine points and Keyra Kruse had eight points in the loss on Friday night but the brightest spot may have been the play of freshman Kailey Cradduck, who scored 10 points while dealing with the Fliers length inside and dealing with a senior standout in Claire Sheppard.
“Kailey went up against a Division-I athlete and a Division-I basketball player that has a ton of experience and she just went nose-to-nose with her,” Granum said. “I think I’ve heard another coach say that everything gets better with experience and she’s just kind of tapping her potential and her ceiling. We’re super excited about her and if she can become the player Claire has become, I think it would be a great compliment.”
With five games to play, both teams are looking to build momentum as they head into their regional tournaments.
“I thought going into this game that Sioux Valley is just a good team,” Severtson said. “A lot of things went our way during the conference tournament so we knew tonight was going to be a battle.”
While Granum’s team is looking to make a run in March, he also complimented the Fliers as a team that could contend for a Class A state title.
“In my rankings, Flandreau is the top team in the state,” Granum said. “For the games we had with them, I’m just super proud of our kids and our team for the way we competed with them.”
• Flandreau 58, Centerville 43
MITCHELL — The Flandreau offense continued to operate well in a victory on Saturday night against Centerville in a matchup at the Corn Palace.
The Fliers led 17-11 at the end of the first quarter and extended their lead to 30-19 before leading 45-31 at the end of the third quarter and out-scoring Centerville 13-12 in the fourth quarter to earn the win.
Lizzie Pavlis led the Fliers with 17 points and six rebounds while Morgan Sheppard had 13 points. Lily Klein finished with 12 points, six rebounds and five assists while Claire Sheppard had 12 points, eight rebounds and five points.
Emma Marshall had 12 points and 12 rebounds for Centerville while Keira Austin had nine points and Thea Gust had seven points.
After improving to 15-0 the Fliers will travel to Garretson on Monday night.