Tough Defense Lifts St. Thomas More To State Title
For the first time since 2018, St. Thomas More can call themselves state basketball champions. The Cavaliers defeated Wagner 52-30 on Saturday night at Frost Arena in Brookings to win the 'A' girls title.
Coming into the tournament, St. Thomas More was seeded fifth, but each game they stayed consistent and solid on defense, which helped lift them to three state tournament victories.
“How it started this season is it totally depended on the defense, and they were up for the challenge,” stated St. Thomas More head girls basketball coach Brandon Kandolin. “We put three great games together.”
St. Thomas More spoiled Lakota Tech’s state tournament debut in the quarterfinals, then knocked off top seeded Wagner in the semi’s, and then shut down Hamlin in the state title game.
Again, Kandolin emphasized how well his team played defensively.
“[Defense] is one thing that we harp on all year, all practice, every practice. They buy into it, and it was the right time and a perfect storm and I thought, two games of 35 and this game held a team to 30 – it’s pretty good,” St. Thomas More’s head coach explained.
Cavaliers junior Reese Ross was elite in Saturday night’s championship game on both the offense and defensive side of the ball. She finished with 25-points, thirteen rebounds, had four blocks, and recorded three steals.
“It was just this new team that randomly just appeared,” Ross said. “It feels so good that the early mornings have paid off, and it feels so good to get to finally this point, because we have been struggling, but we persevered the past seven games and got us to this point.”
Because St. Thomas More wasn’t a top seeded team, there wasn’t an abundance of hype surrounding them coming into the tournament this year. Ross mentioned how they used that to their advantage.
“[Coach Kandolin] told us we have nothing to lose, we came in as a five seed. I think that really helped us, because we just came into it knowing that we don’t know what we’re going to prove and nobody knows what we’re going to put forth,” Ross explained. “He just told us to go out there, give it our all, and leave it all on the court, and we did that.”
This is the seventh state title for St. Thomas More’s girls’ basketball program. Five of their titles came consecutively from 2014-2018. Coach Kandolin mentioned, however, that this one is different.
“It’s been a while. As a matter of fact, it’s been four years since we were right here. I’m very proud of what they accomplished,” Kandolin stated. “Going into the season, we knew that we had a lot to overcome. We had to work hard, and I’m very proud of the way they worked hard.”