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Groton prepared for State A tournament

Groton Area’s Jayden Zak, center, dives for the ball with Mount Vernon/Plankinton’s Zach Baker during their Class A SoDak 16 game Tuesday night in Redfield. Groton will play Flandreau in the opening round of the State A tournament on Thursday in Rapid City. Photo by John Davis taken 3/8/2022

GROTON – Groton boys’ basketball coach Brian Dolan was nervous, of course. He always is on game day. But he was handling it. Just another game day.

That is, until parents and Tiger basketball fans started wishing him good luck.

“It just hit me,” Dolan said. “I was like, well, we have to win. We’re not just playing for the 10-12 kids on the roster and the 28 kids in our program. We’re playing for the whole town.”

Dolan did his best not to impart that nervousness to his team, however, and the Tigers came away with the all-important victory in the SoDak 16 to advance to the Class A state tournament for the first time in more than two decades.

“I took a team to the NCAA tournament when I was at Upper Iowa,” Dolan said, “and I wasn’t as nervous as I was that night.”

But win, the Tigers did, and their reward is the No. 5 seed in this year’s state tournament, which kicks off Thursday in Rapid City. Groton will face No. 4 Flandreau in the opening round.

With the nervousness and relative uncertainty of just getting to the state tournament in the rearview mirror, Dolan said he believes his team is ready for anything.

“We got challenged a lot the last month of the (regular) season,” Dolan said. “We blew some people out, we won some close games, we had to come from behind in some games. That all just gives us more tools in our tool box. I can’t imagine a situation we could get in that we aren’t prepared for.”

The Tigers feature a balanced starting five with Jayden Zak (7.2 points per game), Lane Tietz (14.5 ppg), Jacob Zak (9 ppg), Tate Larson (8.1 ppg) and Kaden Kurtz (11 ppg).

While Groton has scoring threats up and down its roster – including a quiet threat off the bench in the form of Wyatt Hearnen (6.6 ppg) – Dolan said Groton’s signature asset is its defense.

Groton Area’s Wyatt Hearnen, center, puts up a shoto between teammate Tate Larson, left and Mount Vernon/Plankinton’s Mason Hetland, right, during their Class A SoDak 16 game Tuesday night in Redfield. Photo by John Davis taken 3/8/2022

“We can’t guarantee we’re going to make shots, but we can guarantee we’re going to guard you,” Dolan said. “I don’t have to say it anymore, the guys say it to themselves. … The DNA of this team is that they’re not going to lose a game because they got outworked.”

However, now that the Tigers are in the tournament, the journey is not over.

“We’re not going there just to go,” Dolan said.

The Tigers know they’ll have a battle on their hands with each successive round, but their focus is, for now, squarely on Flandreau.

“One game at a time,” Dolan said. “I know (Tash Lunday) and (Chase LeBrun) are really good ball players. But the kids are in a really good space right now. We just have to stay focused on what we need to do.”

Thursday’s opening round game is set for 1:45 p.m. (MST) at The Monument in Rapid City.

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