SIOUX CITY, Iowa(KCAU) – A moment that many in South Dakota, and no one in Dakota Valley will forget anytime soon. The celebration of 53 consecutive wins and two straight perfect seasons. A culmination of the program’s ability that was set in motion 11 years ago. So let’s go back.

“We tried to teach super tough defense, push the ball, fast break. Get kids excited about playing basketball,” Dakota Valley head coach Jason Kleis said.

“We were always gonna play good defense while playing a fast paced, up-tempo style and it kind of threw a lot of teams off,” Dakota Valley 2014 graduate Brody Van Ginkel said.

Doing just that, Jason Kleis and the Panthers broke the mold in 2012, appearing in the program’s first ever State Championship game. Though they’d settle for a State runner-up finish to St. Thomas More, DV had turned a corner. Setting a foundation for greatness and knowing it wouldn’t be their only crack at a title.

“Definitely changed the trajectory of DV forever. It kind of brought the program to new heights and a new appreciation for Dakota Valley basketball and it kind of put us on the map as you’d say,” Van Ginkel said.

“To see them kind of fulfill what we felt we could be and almost pulled off a State title that year. It was a really special run,” Kleis said.

Sporting a combined record of 121-65 over the next eight seasons, DV would become a familiar face at State, earning trips from 2016-2018 and the cancelled 2020 tournament. Producing consistency as well as Division One talent in current USD guard Paul Bruns. A feather in DV’s cap who saw varsity time as an 8th grader, and averaged 10 points per game as a freshman. Going on to become the program’s then all-time leading scorer.

But while the hunger grew for that elusive title, so did a special group of future Panthers. A collection of kids who started playing together as early as 3rd grade, fostering a brotherhood that older siblings couldn’t help but notice.

“Watching these kids as young kids running around the neighborhood and I noticed that bond at an early stage,” Dakota Valley 2017 graduate Robert Rosenquist said. “I knew they were gonna stick together.”

“We’ve got a lot of little brothers on the team, which is a cool thing for us,” Dakota Valley assistant coach Nathan Connelly said. “That watch their brothers at State tournaments, they barely miss State tournaments. Our kids for sure learned from those, and they weren’t playing.”

Maturing together through the years, they’d get a front row seat to that State tournament experience as freshmen and sophomores on varsity in the 2020-21 season. But what they hadn’t felt yet was the heartbreak, as the Panthers would see a nine-point halftime lead slip away to Sioux Valley in the semifinals.

“I’ve never been so ticked off in my life, probably about anything sports related. To lose a game like, I just felt the same it was a kick in the gut,” Kleis said.

“We always kind of sat back and wondered what was next for these kids coming up,” Rosenquist said.

“Just like that, just for one game to end it all right there, we knew that we didn’t wanna feel that and we wanted to go out and compete every game,” Dakota Valley senior guard Randy Rosenquist Jr. said.

The seeds were then planted, fueling a fire no one saw coming. Feeling a responsibility to finish what those before them had started.

“Those building blocks that those guys set before us helped us know what we had to do and that we could do it,” Dakota Valley senior guard Isaac Bruns said.

“I just saw a different resolve in our guys’ minds right when that happened. Wanted to get back there and prove to everybody that loss was not the end or the pinnacle for this team. It propelled us for sure,” Kleis said.

Part Two of Pursuing Perfection: The Dakota Valley Story will air Wednesday evening at 6:20 on KCAU 9 News.