This class has the most teams of any in South Dakota and the competition is fierce. Last season Elk Point-Jefferson broke through to beat Winner in the championship game. Who will it be this season? Here's how I voted in the preseason media poll.
Jandy’s Preseason Top 5 Class 11B
Last season Winner found their way to the championship game like they have the three years prior. They have been a powerhouse program for a long time. This season they have four offensive starters and five on defense to contend for a title. “It’s a small group of senior leaders this year, but I have confidence in the kids,” said Head Coach Trent Olson. Aiden Barfuss returns as a three-year starter who will lead the way in the backfield for Winner. He rushed for 1050 yards and 18 TDs last season and was the Joe Robbie MVP in his sophomore season. Noah Best and Spencer Calhoon are senior leaders on the line and junior tight end Shawn Hammerbeck is once again back in the starting lineup. Jude Sargent and Karson Keiser lead a stout secondary on defense. Look for players like Stratton Morehart to step up this season. Morehart will be a quarterback in this run-first offense and provide some senior leadership.
2. Sioux Valley
The Cossacks have been contenders for several years. This year they have the speed, power and athleticism to make another push toward the top.
“We expect the ordinary things to be done at an extremely high level,” said Coach Dan Hughes. “We have a very veteran group that has worked hard all year long.”
Eight starters are back for the Cossacks who finished 5-4 a year ago. Donovan Rose and Boden Schiller might be the most dynamic combo in the class. Rose is just a junior but broke out last season with 10TDs following a freshman year that he was sidelined by a concussion. Schiller is another versatile athlete who has the potential to run through you or around you. Jace Christensen saw time at QB last year and also has the ability to play receiver. Skyler Trygstad and Hudsyn Ruesink are even more weapons on the offensive side. Austen Siegel, Preston Top and Chris Hornick all return experience to the O-Line. Brock Christopherson, Caleb Murray, Jakob Guthmiller, Mitchel Guthmiller and Braydon Larson all return experience on defense.
The team’s depth might make them a contender by the end of the season, “Our goal is to play 25 different people on offense, defense & special teams. We want everyone on our team to contribute during the week in Fr, JV, & Varsity levels – everyone is important and brings something to the table,” said Coach Hughes.
3. Elk Point-Jefferson
Jake Terry has seen the evolution of a lot of hard work in the EPJ program and they saw the fruits of their labor with an 11B championship last year. “We will have to find our identity as a team after graduating 15 seniors off last year's squad,” said Terry. “We have a lot of new faces, but even though they may not have started, they got a ton of experience at the varsity level.”
Four starters return from their championship squad. Garrett Merkley will be a guy that sees a lot of touches for the Huskies. He can line him up all over the field. Evan Fornia and Hudson Kempf return to the line and Ashton Fairbanks at tight end. Look for Keaton Gale to take snaps in this new look offense.
4. Hot Springs
The Bison had a memorable run in last season's playoffs. They played one of their best games of the year against BEE and then stunned Roncalli on the road to get to the state semifinals. This season seven starters return with confidence, “They have seen success over the last two seasons and are hungry to make that next step,” said Ben Kramer. “They work extremely hard for us and that will pay off huge once the season comes around.”
Camron Maciejewski and Caleb Rickenbach are two of the best in the state. Maciejewski was an all-state linebacker last year who goes into his senior year as a four-year starter. Look for him to increase his presence on the offensive side at running back. Four offensive linemen return in Kayden Hansen, Dawson Kleppe and Aideyn Janis to accompany Rickenbach. Matt Close and Blake Hanes line up at wide out. Colin Iverson, Matt Close and Chaney Klippenstein all return as defensive starters as well. Colin Iverson will likely be seeing more time at quarterback this year.
This team might seem the most auspicious on my list. Just 10 letterwinners return to a team that hasn’t made a deep playoff run at the 11-man level. However, Coach Dusty Hourigan has the Cardinals ready with the right mindset, “This group of student athletes shows a lot of fight and resilience as was showcased all last season,” said Hourigan. “In 2022 many of our starters and key contributors suffered injuries putting underclassmen or first-time starters into major roles.” That experience will have the Cardinals hitting the ground running. Trey Maaland will have a big say in how this team does this year. Maaland has thrown for 1396 career yards with 18 TDs and should have a fantastic senior season. Junior receiver Gabe Sather and sophomore Oliver Fieber haven’t had a ton of varsity experience but should benefit from Maaland’s skill at quarterback and they could have a big season. Robbie Begalka and Kaden TeKrony both return to a big offensive line and could be difference makers for Deuel.
McCook Central/Montrose: Austin Schroeder takes over to lead the Fighting Cougars who went 9-2 a year ago. “This season there will be a lot of changes to the MCM football program,” said Coach Schroeder. “We have a completely new coaching staff. We have a lot of varsity players that will be in different positions than they were in last year. We will need our juniors and seniors to step up and lead the team.” Four starters return on D and three more on offense. Look for Lane Deutsch to take over at quarterback this season with Ty Morrison, Carter Randall, Connor McGuire and Will Rotert all playing bigger roles this season. Mason Sabers, Owen Alley and Carter Jandl are big time defenders to lead the way.
Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan: Head Coach Jeff VanLeur is just five career wins away from 300. He is a perennial contender and has four starters back to contend. Macklen Weber returns at QB with a veteran line in front of him including Jason Zeeb, Riley Weber and Korbyn Kayser. Tate Klumb, Wyatt Anderson and Drake Gustafson should all see bigger roles in the offense this year as well.
Rapid City Christian: Head Coach Matt McIntosh goes into his second season as Head Coach with 17 letterwinners back including some dynamic talent. Simon Kieffer threw for over 1600 yards as a sophomore last year. Wesley Schlabach, a fellow junior, was his top target and should be an all-state type of performer this year. Drake Lindberg, Braylon Marshall, Harm Straatmeyer and Wesley Schlabach are the heart of a defense that should see significant improvement. Look for junior Benson Kieffer and sophomore Lars Kieffer to see expanded roles this year. McIntosh thinks his team should see improvement but knows they still have a lot to learn, “Our team is still young. We lost some great seniors, but we have a great group of 2024s and 2025s that are experienced and ready to take the next step. The team is tightly connected, they play multiple sports together, and we are looking forward to the season.”
Tri-Valley: The Mustangs competed hard last season but came up short down the stretch. Dan Snethen may have the most potential he’s had in his third season at the helm. Seven starters return on offense with 9 coming back on D. “Our work ethic is outstanding,” said Snethen. “We had a very productive offseason in the weight room and on the track. Our adaptability is a strength. We had several players who can play multiple positions and do it very well.” Eli McFarland, Logan Ellison, Carter Sorenson, Hayden Hastings, Tyler Groenwald and Colby Carruthers are seniors who could see the ball. Look for sophomore Brody Dybvig and Landyn Reiser to also see significant time.
Groton: Shaun Wanner returns for his 22nd season coaching in Groton. They played a lot of close games last season and just missed the playoffs. Things get exciting this year with 8 starters back on offense and 9 on defense. Lane Tietz goes into his third year starting at quarterback. Colby Dunker, Christian Ehresmann, Teylor Diegel and Korbin Kucker make up an exciting and athletic backfield behind Logan Ringgenberg, Holden Sippel and Karter Moody up front.
Roncalli: Nine wins in a row to start the season showed the potential for the Cavs last season under head coach Billy Young. They graduated 15 seniors including mainstays Jackson Isakson, Maddox May and Phillip Zens. However, they have a solid foundation of talent once again. Keegan Stewart, Josh Shaunaman, Landon Zikmund and Joey Johnson lead a core of senior leadership.
St. Thomas More: Austin Hagen is the new head coach of the Cavaliers. He was an assistant under 32-year head coach Wayne Sullivan, for three seasons. Look for Lee Neugebauer to lead the way as the returning quarterback. He’s one of just six seniors on the roster this fall.
Clark/Willow Lake: Head Coach David Severson finished his first season with a 4-4 record. They’ve worked hard in the offseason to gel with five returning starters. “We have a great group of young men that work great together,” said Severson. “The guys understand what needs to be done and are willing to put in the work to get to that point.” Returning starters include: Jack Helkenn, Christian Ramirez, James Poppen, Tyson Huber, Griffin Musser, Collin Gaikowski and Elliot Bratland with Emmerson Larson looking to take the starting QB role.
Lead-Deadwood: The Golddiggers finished 4-4 last year and are eyeing an improvement this season. Coach Kyle Kooima is excited, “I like our versatility. We have players that we can put in different positions at any given moment.” Sam Kooima threw for 1029 yards and ran for 439 last season. He returns to lead five starters on a potent offense that includes Mekhi Hayes, Connor Harrison, Dylan Meade and Ethan Hess.
Tripp-Delmont/Armour/Andes Centra/Dakota Christian: Kendall Strand has been on the coaching staff since 2013 but just finished his first season as head coach last year. He has reason to be optimistic, “We lost only one senior to graduation and have 19 returning letter winners,” said Strand. “Size and experience on both sides of the line will be a plus.” They also add state champion coach Gordon Hooks to an assistant role. Mason Reiner leads an athletic returning group at QB with Hunter Loeffler and Garth Maas sharing the load in the backfield. No one will be voting the Thunderhawks in the top five, but they could be the most improved team this season.
Scotland/Menno: The Trappers switched their co-op name from Jim River to Scotland/Menno this year. They have 3 starters back on offense and five on defense. Logan Sayler is an all-conference performer returning at running back with Tate Plooster and Kalob Maruska blocking up front. Trent Guthmiller, Kade Odens and Jayce Walloch all return with starting experience on defense. “We need a lot of young guys to step up this fall,” said Head Coach Ryan Robb. “We will have some depth but need to stay healthy and get better each week.”
Mobridge-Pollock: Donovan Flaherty returns as head coach for the Tigers. They have nine offensive starters back to help lead the way. “With a new coaching change, our success will hinge upon our players buying into the simplicity we want to run our offense, defense, and special teams through perfect execution,” said Flaherty. “My hope is that we look like a completely different team by the end of the year, one that plays fast and confident.” Taylon Carmody and Jackson Eisemann are competing at quarterback while Simon Fried, Carter Hinsz and Shane Henderson return to lead the team.
Miller/Highmore-Harrold: Head Coach Travis Heasley goes into his second season for the Rustlers much more ready to contend. “We are young but a very athletic bunch and the future is very bright.” Colby Kolda should see an increase in usage in the backfield behind four offensive linemen who return to the starting lineup. Colby Harrell, Trake Cowan, Teagan Foreman, Kellan Hurd and Riley Werdel all return on defense.
Parker: Last season the Pheasants won just a single game but they hope to turn in around this year with several key players back including quarterback Ray Travnicek. Head Coach Scott Hybertson hopes leadership will be a strength, “We have a large senior class. This will give us good leadership at the top. These guys have had 2 years of experience playing 11-man football, which helps them understand the level of football we will see from week to week.”
Class 11B Preseason Player of the Year
Aiden Barfuss, Winner
Aiden is already a three year starter and two-time state champion in football. He leads the way at running back for a multi-faceted offense that splits carries amongst several backs. Last season he racked up 1050 yards and 18 TDs on the ground and made 38.5 tackles with five TFLs. He is the clear leader on the favorites in this class.
Players to Watch in Class 11B
Holden Havlik, WWSSC
Simon Kieffer, RC Christian
Sam Kooima, Lead-Deadwood
Trey Maaland, Deuel
Camron Maciejewski, Hot Springs
Garrett Merkley, Elk Point-Jefferson
Lee Neugebauer, St. Thomas More
Caleb Rickenbach, Hot Springs
Donovan Rose, Sioux Valley
Boden Schiller, Sioux Valley