NORTH SIOUX CITY – Dakota Valley’s boys basketball team is battled tested.
Having already dispatched the top two teams in the final South Dakota Class A state rankings, the Panthers take a shot at a third straight highly ranked opponent Thursday with even more at stake.
Dakota Valley (12-10) opens Class A state tournament play with a Noon test in the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls against third-ranked and Dakota XII Conference rival Madison (18-4).
The Panthers, one of five Dakota XII schools in the eight-team state tournament field defeated second-ranked Vermillion in the regional semifinals and then knocked off top-ranked Sioux Valley in the Sweet 16 to earn the school’s second straight state tournament berth and fourth in school history.
“I don’t know if anyone has had a tougher run to get to the state tournament,” said Dakota Valley coach Jason Kleis. “We hope it doesn’t take a toll on us when we get to the state tournament, emotional toll of having gone through so many wars, we hope it helps us.”
The Panthers have won six of their past seven games, with the lone loss in that span coming against Madison, 64-55, in the regular season finale. A win over Lennox in the regional opener preceded the road win over Vermillion and a neutral site victory over Sioux Valley at the Pentagon.
“Madison took it to us and that was when we were already playing pretty good,” said Kleis. “We know how tough it’s going to be.
“I like our confidence in the way our boys are clicking so I think we’ll have a chance but it will take a big effort to come out on top.”
Dakota Valley, with three double figure scorers, average 63.9 points per game and have surpassed 65 in five of the six wins since starting the season 6-9.
Robert Rosenquist, a 5-11 senior, has scored at least 20 points in all three postseason games and enters the state tournament with a 17.5 scoring average, second most among Class A state qualifiers.
John Prochello, a 6-7 senior, chips in 11.2 points and a team-high 5.1 rebounds a game. Prochello, a Briar Cliff recruit, was one of four in double figures with 11 points in the overtime win over Sioux Valley.
“They’re going to be the best defense we come across this season,” said Prochello of Madison. “We’re going to have to show up for the full four quarters instead of just the end of the third and fourth quarter.”
Luke Schmitt, a 6-1 senior, is the third Panther averaging double figures at 10.0 points per game for a group that has six seniors, all among the normal nine-player rotation Kleis, in his 10th season, employs.
“We know time is clicking with how much time we have left (in our careers), but were having a blast,” said Schmitt.
The six-member senior class includes Bennett Chesterman, Jayse Kittler and Cameron Fisher while juniors in the rotation are Tanner Smith, Jack Graves and Jack McCabe.
Smith and McCabe have helped solidify the point guard position after the graduation loss of Tyler Johnson from last season’s third-place state team. It also allowed Rosenquist to move off the ball where he is more comfortable.
“Mid-season when we were 6-9 we reminded the kids all that really matters is how were playing at the end,” said Kleis. “We had some things come together at the right time. We figured out our point guard position, last year we lost a really special point guard who was a really great defender, took us a while to figure that one out.
“Tanner Smith and Jack McCabe have picked up the slack for that position and made a difference in the second half of the season.”
McCabe had a career-high 19 points in the win over Sioux Valley, just his fifth double figure scoring outing of the season.
“Once we got him (Rosenquist) off the ball and we were able to figure out how not to turn it over, get into our offense, it’s made a big difference for sure the last six or seven games.”
For the six seniors, it’s been a special end to a two-year run of state tournament berths.
“It’s something special,” said Prochello. “It’s something not most teams get to experience, not a whole lot of teams get to experience going to state, especially off a rough season like we ended up having.”