SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – Though the 2021 season ended with a third place win at the State tournament, the pain of that semifinal loss to Sioux Valley was still there for the Panthers. A sour taste for a successful senior class as their careers at DV came to a close, but left a parting message to its underclassmen who didn’t want that feeling again.
“They let us know, you can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t have the will and the grind and the work ethic to go in every day, every game, every quarter… we learned that we need to bring it every day to get it done,” Dakota Valley senior guard Randy Rosenquist Jr. said.
“We’re not gonna let that happen again type deal,” Dakota Valley assistant coach Nathan Connely said. “It motivated our kids, it motivated us as coaches to spend more time watching film, spend more time communicating with guys and motivating them.”
“We knew we had the potential and the ability to get back to State again and try to do what we fell just short of the year before,” Dakota Valley senior guard Isaac Bruns said.
And that was all they needed. Averaging 69 points per game and outscoring their opponent by double-digits 88 percent of the time, Dakota Valley was like a shot out of a cannon in the 2021-22 season.
Jaxon Hennies and Sam Faldmo were sharpshooters from deep and Jaxson Wingert grabbed any rebound that came his way. Floor general Randy Rosenquist Jr. could feed the rock into any space, while Class A Player of the Year Isaac Bruns averaged 23 points a night. Scoring from anywhere on the floor, and replicating the success he saw from his older brother Paul.
“Looking up to him and eventually wanting to be at that level helped me to push myself. I took a bunch of things from his game,” Bruns said.
“The stars seemed to align every night,” Dakota Valley head coach Jason Kleis said. “Starting with our first practice, starting with our first game, The focus of the kids, the intensity, the togertherness, the chemistry, they were dialed in. We didn’t have to coach them that hard honestly.”
Knowing each other’s weakness and strengths since a young age, the Panthers played those roles to perfection. Becoming a mix of speed, efficiency, and power that was destined for a return to the State tournament. Flexing that camaraderie on the court, to the team dinners off of it.
“It’s very collaborative, everybody is pitching in,” Sam Faldo’s mother Robin Faldmo said. “It’s just like the team, everybody is pitching in with one goal in mind.”
“It’s just fun to see them interact and how much they love each other and enjoy being around each other and how everyone is a part of the team no matter what their role is,” Sam Faldmo’s father Dave Faldmo said. “Whether they’re on the floor or not on the floor, everyone feels like they’re part of the team.”
That included Jackson Strawn, a Dakota Valley student who was facing a challenging time at a young age when Jason Kleis asked if he’d like to become a team manager. A longtime member of the program, who realized that unshakable bond of the group.
“I became friends with the coaches and had a ton of great friendships through that,” Dakota Valley former team manager Jackson Strawn said. “It has impacted my life beyond imaginable. They’re close I mean you see them on a Wednesday, Thursday night at 5 o’clock they’re probably playing basketball in somebody’s driveway.”
And the Panthers stayed perfect. Running roughshod through the regular season and regionals at 23-0, DV was back at State. Carrying that unbeaten mark into the title game, moving one win away from their first ever State championship. The last team left to slay? Sioux Valley. The ultimate shot at redemption DV knew wouldn’t be easy. But harkening back to their team mantra, they maintained pursuit.
“The motto was ‘Live and Play with the End in Sight.’ Talking about that as a team helped us focus on our end goal,” Bruns said.
Trailing by 4 at halftime, the focus didn’t waver. And as the shots started to fall, the energy started to flow in Rapid City. Outscoring the Cossacks 25-12 in the 3rd quarter, DV left no doubt. Staying in control until the final seconds to cement an 82-65 win. Earning the perfect 26-0 season and the program’s first ever State championship. History in the making.
“It was incredible. We knew all the hard work that went into it,” Bruns said.
“Best feeling knowing that all the hard work you have done paid off,” Rosenquist Jr. said.
“I will never forget each building block of the season just kept building on itself. It was just a magical and easy year to coach,” Kleis said.
A dream held by that young DV group, coming true. Achieving greatness for all Panthers past and present.
“Knowing that we got it done and to be the first one to do it for this school, we’ll be known at this school for a while. Probably forever,” Rosenquist Jr. said.
Part Three of “Pursuing Perfection: The Dakota Valley Story” will air on Thursday at 6:20 p.m. on KCAU 9 News.