Milbank native Kalen DeBoer, who coached the University of Washington to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the College Football Playoffs, has been named the South Dakota “Sports Celebrity” of the Year by the South Dakota Sportswriters Association.
The SDSWA has annually presented recognition to the state’s sports figures in a number of different categories since 1954. Here is a look at this year’s honorees:
Kalen DeBoer, Milbank
In his second season as the University of Washington’s head football coach, Milbank native Kalen DeBoer guided the Huskies to the Pac-12 Championship and a College Football Playoff Berth with a 13-0 record. He is 24-2 and has led the Huskies to 20-straight wins in two seasons.
In addition, he was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year for the second-straight season and has either been nominated for or received a number of the National Coach of the Year honors, including the Home Depot Coach of the Year honor during the ESPN College Football Awards Show.
A 1998 University of Sioux Falls graduate, the 48-year-old DeBoer was an All-American wide receiver on the Cougars’ 1996 NAIA Division II national championship team. He finished his career with 234 receptions for 3,400 yards and 33 touchdowns. He opened his head coaching career at his alma mater, compiling a 67-3 record and three NAIA Division II national championships (2006, 2008 and 2009) in five seasons.
DeBoer also went 12-6 in two seasons at Fresno State and now owns a career record of 103-11 as a head college football coach.
Independent Male Athlete
Ezra Aderhold, Aberdeen
Aderhold, an Aberdeen native, just finished his fourth season on the Professional Disc Golf Association Tour. He is ranked 16th among the world’s top disc golfers.
“This last season was definitely my best season from a playing standpoint. I didn’t finish quite as well in the overall standings on the disc golf pro tour as in previous years, but the competition is also improving very rapidly as the sport continues to grow and more money keeps coming into the sport,” Aderhold said. “The competition level is improving very rapidly, but I had some of my best finishes this season, so I’m definitely trending in the right direction.”
Aderhold, who finished 11th in the overall standings in 2021, participated in golf while at Aberdeen Christian, before taking up disc golf.
“Basically, when I decided to take it seriously and try to make it my career, I kind of just took two full years where I didn’t compete at all and I didn’t really play on courses too often,” Aderhold said. “I kind of just went to the field and filmed my technique and kind of tried to create a solid foundation.”
Aderhold has turned those hours of practice into a solid disc golfing career, one that is being recognized with the Independent Male Athlete of the Year award.
“It’s definitely a cool award to win,” Aderhold said. “I spent most of my life in South Dakota, so to be recognized by my home state in that way is an honor for sure.”
Independent Female Athlete
Bergen Reilly, Sioux Falls
A Sioux Falls O’Gorman graduate, Reilly was chosen Big Ten Setter of the Year, becoming the first ever freshman to earn the award since it originated in 2012. She also earned All-Big Ten First Team, All-Freshman Team, and AVCA All-Region Team accolades.
Reilly, just the second true freshman setter to be the starter at Nebraska under head coach John Cook, ranked 17th nationally in assists per set. Reilly was named Big Ten Setter of the Week four times this year and Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice.
A 6-foot-1 setter, she paced a Husker offense that ranked in the top 20 nationally in hitting percentage (.279) and kills per set (14.06).
Dell Rapids Legion Baseball
With a 29-3 record and a 28-game win streak in the works for much of the year, the Dell Rapids Legion Post 65 baseball team’s dominance won’t soon be forgotten. For the fourth time in team history and first time since 2018, the Dell Rapids Legion baseball team won the Class B state title with a 5-2 win over Elk Point/Jefferson on Aug. 1.
The Phils, as they became known in 2023 in honor of longtime coach and World War II veteran Phil Anderson, did not lose to a Class B team all season until they reached the state tournament. A 5-4 setback to EPJ in the semifinal round ended the win streak but Dell Rapids answered back in the championship round the next day, picking up the victory in the winner-take-all title game.
Coached by Danny Miller, Dell Rapids had three senior players that were selected to the state’s all-star game in Brayden Pankonen, Aiden Boechler and Dylan Kindt, and Kindt was selected as the Class B player of the year with a .353 batting average and a 0.37 earned-run average with 54 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings.
Kindt earned the pitching win in the championship game and Pankonen drove in two runs and earned the save on the mound.
College Male Athlete
Joel Scott, Black Hills State
Scott powered the Black Hills State University men’s basketball team to the NCAA Division II Final Four in 2023.
A 6-foot-7 forward, Scott was one of the best players in Division II last season averaging 23.0 points and 9.6 rebounds helping BHSU to its second straight Final Four.
Scott was named the D2CCA National Player of the Year, two-time Bevo Francis finalist, two-time NABC All-America selection, NABC All-Region first team, D2CCA All-Region first team and Rocky Mountain Athletic Player of the Year. He finished as the eighth all-time leading scorer in South Dakota collegiate men’s basketball history with 2,457 career points.
Scott is a current member of the Colorado State University men’s basketball team.
College Men’s Coach
John Stiegelmeier & Jimmy Rogers, SDSU Football
The year 2023 included the end of the John Stiegelmeier era on the sidelines for the SDSU football team and the dawn of the Jimmy Rogers era as the team’s head coach. But there was no difference on the field, as SDSU continued a 28-game win streak and put up a 14-0 record after Stiegelmeier won the FCS championship game in his final contest as head coach in January. The 45-21 victory over North Dakota State was win No. 199 in Stiegelmeier’s 26-year SDSU career.
A few weeks later, SDSU simultaneously announced Stiegelmeier’s retirement and Rogers, a former Jackrabbit player and coach, was appointed as head coach. And the high-powered Jackrabbits have gone 14-0 in the 2023 season under the 35-year-old coach, who was the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year national winner. In Rogers’ first season guiding the program, South Dakota State is the only team to rank in the top 10 of the FCS in average points and yards gained per game and fewest points and yards allowed per game.
College Men’s Team
The year 2023 will be remembered for its historic dominance for SDSU football, with a national title in January and the undefeated run for another championship continuing in December. The Jackrabbits finished off its first national championship in program history in Frisco, Texas with a 45-21 win over rival North Dakota State. It was SDSU’s first team national championship since moving to Division I.
The new season starting in August didn’t miss a beat, rattling off 14 wins in a row and picking up a second consecutive undefeated season in Missouri Valley Football Conference play under first-year head coach Jimmy Rogers. SDSU ran its win streak to 28 games in a row — the third-longest streak in FCS football history — and 21 consecutive home wins at Dykhouse Stadium.
SDSU had four All-America selections from the Associated Press, all on offense with quarterback Mark Gronowski, running back Isaiah Davis and offensive linemen Garret Greenfield and Mason McCormick. Davis and Gronowski split offensive player of the year honors in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and Gronowski is one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award, which honors the nation’s top FCS offensive player. On defense, SDSU has allowed 9.7 points per game and held opponents to 10 points or less eight times this season, while forcing 26 turnovers.
Seeded No. 1 in the FCS playoffs, the Jacks cruised past Mercer, Villanova and Albany for victories with a combined margin of victory of 123-12, including a 59-0 win in the semifinal round. SDSU will line up against second-seeded Montana on Jan. 7, 2024, in Frisco with a chance to earn back-to-back FCS championships.
College Female Athlete
Myah Selland, SDSU
Myah Selland capped a brilliant basketball career for the Jackrabbits in March, leading SDSU to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in her career and the Jackrabbits’ fourth trip all-time to the Round of 32 with an opening-round overtime win over USC, in which Selland had 29 points.
Selland, a 6-foot-1 forward from Letcher, earned Summit League player of the year for the second time, powering SDSU (29-6) to an undefeated run in the conference and 22 consecutive wins, and Selland became the only player in SDSU history to rank in the top-five in career scoring (2,167), rebounds (887) and assists (452).
Off the court, she was recognized nationally with the Coach John Wooden Citizenship Cup, as the Summit League’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She was also one of the final 30 candidates for NCAA Woman of the Year and was recognized with teammate Tori Nelson at the ESPY awards for their efforts with nonprofit Her Turn to provide sports opportunities to young girls around Brookings.
College Women’s Coach
Dave Krauth, Augustana Basketball
The 34-season coaching career of Dave Krauth came to an end in 2022-23, but not without more success.
The Vikings went 25-6 in Krauth’s final season, qualifying for the NCAA Division II Tournament. Augustana advanced to the semifinals of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament and was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Central Region.
Krauth finished with a career record of 695-302. Combined with his high school coaching days, Krauth’s teams won 1,042 games during his career.
College Women’s Team
Dakota State Basketball
A program-best 29 wins and a trip to the national semifinals highlighted a special season for the Dakota State University women’s basketball team in 2022-23. The Trojans won three games in their NAIA tournament run over teams ranked in the top-12, defeating Eastern Oregon, Carroll (Montana) and Indiana Wesleyan, before falling to Clarke (Iowa) in the semifinal round, 79-69.
For the season, the Trojans won a third consecutive North Star Athletic Association regular-season championship and a trip to the NAIA national tournament. In their quadrant of the bracket, the Trojans defeated the No. 3, No. 2 and No. 1 seeds to reach the final four. They became the first school in North Star Athletic Association history to reach the national semifinals of the NAIA women’s basketball tournament.
Individually, center Elsie Aslesen was a third-team All-America selection and forward Savannah Walsdorf was an honorable mention All-America pick, and both players were national all-tournament selections.
High School Boys’ Athlete
Simeon Birnbaum, Rapid City
Birnbaum cemented himself as one of South Dakota’s all-time greats in 2023. At the state track and field meet, Birnbaum captured titles in the Class AA 800-meter, 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter runs. He also anchored the winning sprint medley relay team.
Birnbaum shined nationally, too. Birnbaum won the 3,200-meter run with his 8:34.10 effort at the Arcadia Invitational, which was the U.S. No. 1 time among prep boys in 2023. Birnbaum also won the two-mile run at the Brooks PR Invitational, which ranked No. 1 nationally among prep competitors in 2023 and No. 2 in U.S. prep history.
In addition, he ranked No. 1 nationally and No. 4 all-time in the mile thanks to his 3:57.53 clocking that won the HOKA Festival of Miles. Birnbaum cashed in with a national title in the mile at Nike Outdoor Nationals (4:02.22). In a 1,500-meter race against a field of professionals at Nike Outdoor Nationals, he took third with a time of 3:37.93—the No. 2 clocking in U.S. prep history in the event. He received the 2023 USA TODAY boys track and field athlete of the year and the Gatorade South Dakota boys track and field athlete of the year.
He is currently running at the University of Oregon.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - De Smet boys’ basketball coach Jeff Gruenhagen was named the 2023 High School Boys’ Coach by the South Dakota Sportswriters Association.
High School Boys’ Coach
Jeff Gruenhagen, DeSmet Basketball
Winning state championships is nothing new for Gruenhagen, but the way in which the De Smet Bulldogs won last season’s Class B state boys’ title was a bit different.
After losing the bulk of the team to graduation from the two-time state champion squad before, Gruenhagen guided the Bulldogs to their third consecutive state title.
“That was a great feeling last year to do it when we had lost a great group of seniors, five of them off of the team. A lot of those guys had been playing for a number of years,” Gruenhagen said. “To bring back and win it again with guys that didn’t get a ton of varsity minutes the year before because of the experience we had … was really fun.”
Gruenhagen is no stranger to the rich history of De Smet basketball. He played on the 1987 De Smet boys’ basketball state championship team and is now helping to keep the Bulldogs tradition going.
“I’m a De Smet guy. I bleed De Smet athletics, football, basketball, whatever it is,” Gruenhagen said. “It’s just great to be considered with those names of great coaches and that we are just working for the kids and trying to do things for those guys. I always say I coach because somebody coached me years ago and made that sacrifice. That’s kind of why I do it.”
Gruenhagen is honored to be named the High School Boys’ Coach of the Year.
“it’s fun to see that people that are watching the sport of basketball think we’re doing an OK job and getting our stuff done,” Gruenhagen said.
High School Boys’ Team
Dakota Valley Basketball
For the second straight season, the Dakota Valley Panthers ran the table to win the Class A boys’ basketball title.
Led by University of South Dakota recruit Isaac Bruns and Dakota Wesleyan recruit Randy Rosenquist, Jr., the Panthers finished 27-0, capped by a 54-48 victory over Dakota XII Conference rival Sioux Falls Christian in the final this past March.
Despite graduating six players from that squad, the Panthers have continued to have success to start the 2023-24 season. Dakota Valley took a 4-0 record into a Dec. 22 contest at Lakota Tech, giving the Panthers a 58-game win streak. The run is six shy of tying that of Armour (64) from 1978-1980.
High School Girls’ Athlete
Gracelyn Leiseth & Kami Wadsworth, Hamlin
Hamlin High School athletes Gracelyn Leiseth and Kami Wadsworth are sharing the honor for good reason. Leiseth accomplished national status as a girls’ shot put and discus thrower in track and field and Wadsworth was the driving force for a Hamlin girls basketball team that went 25-0 and won a state Class A championship and also made her mark as a thrower in track and field.
Leiseth, a University of Florida recruit, capped her stellar high school track career by winning the state Class A girls’ shot put and discus and being named the meet’s Outstanding Class A field events athlete for a third-straight year. She also became only the third girl in state history to win the Gatorade South Dakota Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year three times.
After setting the state’s all-time girls’ shot put record (52-6) as a junior, Leiseth added the state’s all-time girls’ discus record (175-3). She was the only high school girl in the nation to surpass 52 feet in the shot put and 175 feet in the discus in 2023. She also won the shot put at the Nike Outdoor Nationals.
The 5-foot-11 Wadsworth earned Class A South Dakota Miss Basketball honors to cap an outstanding career for the Chargers, who followed up back-to-back state runner-up finishes with a perfect season and a state title. She earned Class A All-State honors (first-team twice and second-team once) by averaging 22 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 rebounds per game for Coach Tim Koisti’s squad. In addition, Wadsworth finished second behind Leiseth in both the Class A shot put and discus in the state track meet. She placed four times in the discus and three times in the shot put during her career, including third-place finishes in both events in both 2021 and 2022.
High School Girls’ Coach
Jamie Parish, S.F. Washington Basketball
One of the few coaches in South Dakota to have success in all three classes, Jamie Parish added to his impressive resume in 2023.
Parish, who has been the head coach for Sioux Falls Washington since 2014-15, led the Warriors to a third state Class AA girls’ basketball title during his tenure in 2022-23. The Warriors capped their 21-3 season with a 54-36 rout of Pierre in the final.
Washington has won three state titles under Parish (2015, 2021, 2023). Parish also led Vermillion to a Class A title in 2007. Parish also took Centerville to a Class B state tournament, he is one of the few coaches to have made state tournament appearances at all three levels in the state.
A Yankton native whose coaching stops include both the University of South Dakota and Mount Marty University, Parish entered the 2023-24 season with a 277-154 career record.
High School Girls’ Team
The Estelline-Hendricks gymnastics team capped an outstanding 2022-23 season by winning the co-op’s first-ever state championship in the sport and in the process became the first Class A school other than Madison or Deuel to secure a state Class A title since 1994.
The Redhawks topped the eight-team field to win the Class A team competition with a score of 138.917. Chamberlain finished second at 137.117.
Coach Sherri Johnson’s Redhawks featured junior standout Sadie Johnson, who won the vault, floor exercise and all-around titles in the Class A Individual Event and All-Around competition and fellow state individual medalists in senior Brynn Peterson and eighth-grader Payge Ebbers.