They finally made it.
After coming so close the last few years, the Aberdeen Roncalli girls’ basketball team has qualified for the State A girls’ basketball tournament this Thursday through Saturday in Watertown. No. 5 seed Aberdeen Roncalli (18-3) will play No. 4 Clark-Willow Lake (18-4) at 1:45 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the state tournament.
It is the first time that the Cavaliers have advanced to a state girls’ basketball tourney.
“I’m happy for the girls to finally get there,” Roncalli coach Derek Larson said. “Especially the senior girls we have and with all the time they have put in.”
Roncalli’s five seniors that have led the team to 54 wins in their high school careers, three district titles and now the school’s first state tourney berth since the Roncalli girls’ basketball program began in 1975.
Senior forward Mollee Karst powers the Cavaliers. The 5-foot-9 Karst is the all-time leading scorer in program history and has been the Cavaliers’ leading scorer the past three seasons. She is averaging 15 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this season.
“She has been huge for us this year,” Larson said. “We really had to rely heavily on her this year to pick up a lot of the scoring load.”
Senior guard Morgan Gunderson adds 10.2 ppg. The 5-foot-7 Gunderson has also recorded a team-high 56 steals this season.
“She can shoot the ball and she goes to the basket well,” Larson said. “Over the summer, she has really improved her offensive game from last year to this year.”
Seniors Abby Dockter, Tage Hanson and Taylor Hanson round out the starting five. The 5-foot-3 Hanson twins get after it on the defensive end. Taylor averages 5.7 ppg and has 55 steals this season. Tage scores 5.9 ppg and has 44 steals.
“They feed off of each other,” Larson said. “It just seems like they almost don’t get tired and as long as they don’t get in foul trouble, it seems like they go 32 minutes, 94 feet of the floor and they are diving all over the floor after loose basketballs. Defensively, we rely on them heavily.”
The 5-foot-10 Dockter was inserted into the starting lineup this season after being a reserve player in recent years. She is averaging 3.5 ppg and 4.5 rpg. She came up big for the Cavaliers in their district and region title games.
“Abby Dockter probably had her best two basketball games the last the two games we played — against Britton-Hecla and against Milbank,” Larson said. “She is really stepping up for us.”
Junior guard Paige Sommers is the Cavaliers’ top reserve and averages 4.7 ppg. Junior forward Emily Bohle and sophomore guard Hailey Kline also contribute off the bench.
Roncalli hangs it hat on its defense. The Cavaliers are giving up only an average of 33 points per game and have not allowed a team to score more than 50 points this season.
“Our defense keeps us in games and if we aren’t shooting the ball very well, we have to play good defense and that has kind of been consistent for us all year,” Larson said.
The Cavaliers' three losses this season were against Warner, Herreid-Selby Area and St. Thomas More. Roncalli hasn’t lost a game since losing to Warner 44-31 in Aberdeen on Jan. 26. The Cavaliers are currently on a nine game winning streak. Roncalli picked up a huge win over then No. 1 in Class B Summit in early February.
“That was a huge momentum builder for us beating Summit at home,” Larson said, “that kind of got us going for the rest of the year.”
The Cavaliers closed out their regular season with a 44-27 win over Clark-Willow Lake to clinch the Northeast Conference title. Roncalli jumped out to a 25-8 halftime lead and withstood a second half rally to beat the Cyclones.
“We know that this time when we play Clark, they are going to play a different game then they played the first time,” Larson said. “We are obviously not expecting to be up 25-8 at half in this one. They are a good basketball team. They were rated in the top five in the state for most of the year for a reason. We are obviously going to have to change some things up a little bit on our end and play our best basketball to probably beat Clark.”