SIOUX CITY, IOWA (KCAU) – “We kind of knew that it was ‘you lose and you’re done.’ So, with that in the back of our mind, everyone’s focusing up as best as they can. We’re getting prepared every game, going through our scouting report. We knew as the postseason came, those were going to be our last couple of games and we wanted to play as many as we could. So, we gave everything we had and enjoyed those last few games,” Dakota Valley senior forward Isaac Bruns said.
The Panthers kicked off their playoff push at home with a big 54-point win over Parker, followed by a nine-point victory against Tea Area in the next round. The win was Dakota Valley’s 49th consecutive victory, tying Custer’s mark for most wins in a row in Class A. Adding even more weight to their path to Sioux Falls.
“We really tried to keep the focus on that with the team and then mid-year, it changed a little bit. The pressure got a little bit tighter, I think,” Dakota Valley head coach Jason Kleis said.
Rather than folding to the pressure, DV did not back down. The Panthers defeated Miller 94-41 in the SoDak16, earning the unparalleled 50th victory.
“We have a really good chance to break this record. But, we didn’t let it get to us that much because we wanted to stay focused,” Dakota Valley junior center Jaxson Wingert added.
A significant moment for the Panthers team, especially for Isaac Bruns. The South Dakota Class A Player of the Year’s 32-point performance moved him atop the program’s all-time scoring list, surpassing his older brother Paul Bruns, with Isaac’s future USD Coyote teammate there to witness.
“I looked up to him after the game when I was sitting on the end of the bench in the fourth quarter, I think, and he was smiling. He held that record for two years and scoring over 2,000 points is crazy. But, he was happy for me and the rest of the guys. It was pretty cool to get both of those records from my older brother,” Bruns emphasized.
Dakota Valley just three games away from going back-to-back. With the win streak in their possession, the Panthers had the momentum to make a run for it all.
“We didn’t get this far just to get this far. We need to dial it in and keep working hard,” Wingert mentioned.
The state tournament was not unfamilar territory for head coach Jason Kleis and company. But what was, trailing at halftime. After handedly defeating Hot Springs in the state quarterfinals, Dakota Valley fell behind to Hamlin in the state semis, heading into the locker room down nine points. In a win-or-go-home scenario, the Panthers leaned on each other when it mattered most.
“It’s mostly just playing together and just doing what we do. We’ve been playing together forever and we know how to battle through these moments,” Dakota Valley senior forward Sam Faldmo said.
But with their back against the wall, Dakota Valley stood tall. Using an instrumental 19-0 run, the Panthers turned their nine-point deficit into a 13-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. A second half that spoke volumes about the resilliency of this team.
“Knowing that we’re mentally tough and being down a few points doesn’t really mean too much when you have a whole half left to play ahead of you and we have a lot of experience going into those games. I think that really helped us, also,” Bruns added.
The stage was set. Dakota Valley vs. Sioux Falls Christian for the state title. The team just four quarters away from completing their mission. A back-and-forth first half with Dakota Valley down 26-24 at halftime. So close, yet still far from the ultimate prize.
“I tell the kids all the time that basketball is not about winning or losing. It really is just trying to develop into being as good as you possibly can be. We thought our guys did that and had done that and we were so proud of them. But, you want that icing on the cake for them at the end,” Kleis said.
For a team that’s known for their prolific offense, it was the Dakota Valley defense stealing the spotlight in the second half. The Panthers outscored the Chargers 30-22 after halftime while only allowing six points in the fourth quarter. Isaac Bruns, who would go on to win South Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year, led all scorers with 22 points in the title game. Dakota Valley successfully defended their title. A surreal ending for DV’s senior class, accomplishing what they’ve worked their entire lives for.
“Once it was over, it was kind of ‘oh, we’re not going to play again.’ But, we knew we were only playing together for this one goal. We’ve been playing together for however many years just to do this and we did it twice. We kind of went into every game like ‘oh yeah, we get to play another game with our boys.’ But now that it’s over, we’re like ‘yeah, we played a whole bunch of games with each other .’ A lot of people know about this team and in the future, a few years from now, we’ll all be like ‘yeah, a lot of people know about us,'” Dakota Valley senior guard Randy Rosenquist Jr. said.