Multiple contenders emerging for Class AA state titles in high school basketball

Sioux Falls Jefferson tops both boys and girls polls

JT Rock
Sioux Falls Lincoln's JT Rock (45) shoots a jump shot over Mitchell's Caden Hinker (20) as Macon Larson (11) looks on during the second half of a high school boys basketball contest on Jan. 29, 2022, at the Corn Palace.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic

There's a really big high school boys basketball game in Sioux Falls on Friday night.

No. 1 ranked Jefferson will visit the Lincoln gym on Feb. 17 to take on the No. 2 Patriots in a battle many think will be a preview of the Class AA state championship.

Jefferson is undefeated, 16-0. Lincoln was 15-1 with their only loss coming to Jefferson in the Cavaliers gym, until they stumbled Tuesday night against Roosevelt.

Were the Patriots guilty of looking ahead to the big showdown with Jefferson? Perhaps. It doesn't do much to lessen the hype surrounding Friday's battle.

With 7-foot-1, Iowa State-bound center JT Rock looming literally and figuratively atop the state's best players, the Pats are 8-0 at home this year, and with Elliot Whitney, Tate Schafer and Jack Hilgenberg chipping in, coach Jeff Halseth's team is a legit threat to the undefeated Cavaliers.


But about those Cavs.

Picking up right where the 11AAA state champion Cavalier football team left off, with many of the same athletes, coach Tim Reck's team has been impressive from the jump.

For a team with a 16-0 record, the Cavs have several blowout wins to their credit, but they haven't coasted through untested. They've shown a knack for winning close games, too, including a 59-58 squeaker at Brandon Valley where they overcame a 17-point first half deficit, a 63-60 win over Roosevelt and even a 70-66 nailbiter at Class A Sioux Falls Christian. Maybe that means they're vulnerable. Maybe it means they're that well-coached and poised.

University of Sioux Falls-bound point guard Taylen Ashley uses his quarterback skills deftly on the hardwood, while 6-5 guard Kaden Year is one of the state's best and most versatile players. The Cavs are teeming with athleticism, and have tremendous size, too.

122922 SFJ Orono Taylen Ashley.JPG
Sioux Falls Jefferson's Taylen Ashley drives to the basket against an Orono (Minn.) defender during the Hoop City Classic on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

But while Friday's game should be epic, it would be a disservice to several other teams to assume it's a state title preview.

With the regular season winding down next weekend, Roosevelt (11-6) is an obvious sleeper. They're defending champs, just beat Lincoln and nearly beat Jefferson. Yankton (11-4), Mitchell (12-4), Harrisburg (11-6), Brandon Valley (11-6), Pierre (11-6) and Washington (9-6) are all dangerous. But that's nine teams. At least one of them won't even make the state tournament, held this year in Rapid City March 16-18. The road to the title will be a challenging one.

Tight race atop AA girls basketball

Could Jefferson make it a hat trick in football, boys basketball and girls basketball? It's certainly possible.

The No. 1 ranked Cavalier girls, coached by former Augustana standout Shaunteva Pruett, are 14-2, the best record in Class AA.


Cierra Watkins, Aliyah McGovern-Harrington and Ashlen Johnson are among those who have led the way, but expect No. 2 Washington to be one of several teams standing in the way of a Jefferson crown.

The Warriors handed the Cavs one of their two losses, a month ago at Jefferson (the Cavs got their revenge two weeks later at Washington). Led by USF-bound twin sisters Hannah and Brooklyn Harpe, the Warriors are 13-3.

Pierre (14-3), defending state champion O'Gorman (13-4) and Harrisburg (14-4) are serious contenders, while Brandon Valley and Rapid City Stevens, both at 12-5, loom as sleepers.

This year's Class AA state tournament is set for March 9-11 at the Pentagon in Sioux Falls.

Matt Zimmer is a Sioux Falls native and longtime sports writer. He graduated from Washington High School where he played football, legion baseball and developed his lifelong love of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings. After graduating from St. Cloud State University, he returned to Sioux Falls, began a long career in amateur baseball and started working as a sports freelancer. Zimmer was hired as a sport reporter at the Argus Leader in 2004, where he covered Sioux Falls high schools and colleges before moving to the South Dakota State University beat in 2014.
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