Since 2013 when the classification system delineated 11AA as the second largest class, the Pierre Governors have won six of the nine state titles. They are locked in on continuing their dynasty while the rest of the class is working hard on narrowing the gap. Tea Area made quite an impression in their first year in 11AA by going unbeaten in the regular season and making it all the way to the title game.
Last season Recap:
- Pierre won their fifth consecutive state championship
- Tea Area runner up
- Yankton and Aberdeen Central semifinalists
- Sturgis, Mitchell, Brookings, Watertown lost in the quarterfinals
This season’s storylines:
- Pierre eyes sixth straight title
- Lincoln Kienholz committed to the University of Washington
- Tea Area has a new head coach with Scott Frey
Jandy’s Preseason Rankings
1. Pierre Governors
Head Coach: Steve Steele
Starters Returning: 7 OFFENSE / 7 DEFENSE
Impact Players: Lincoln Kienholz, Jack Merkwan, Cade Kaiser, Christian Busch, Jason Maciejczak, Jett Zabel, Matthew Coverdale, Trey Lewis, Brock Moser, Jayden Wiebe, Jacob Mayer, Gavin Stotts, Deegan Houska, Chase Carda, Emmit Andersen, Jackson Edman, Brecken Krueger
Last season you could argue that Pierre did not have any business competing for a title. They were trying to fit several sophomores and juniors into the rotation that had not played much varsity ball. But Lincoln Kienholz came to the rescue and threw for 3,359 yards and 37 touchdowns and ran for 1,165 yards and 12 scores. He gets a lot of the credit but not all of it. His supporting cast stepped up in a big way and with seven starters returning plus the addition of all-state lineman Jason Maciejczak from Douglas, the Govs are ready to take the state by storm. “We will have to rebuild the line a bit, but have almost all of our Offensive and Defensive skill positions returning. This should allow us to be creative and have a deep playbook on both sides of the ball. If we can build our trenches quickly, we should be a tough team,” said Coach Steele.
2. Yankton Bucks
Head Coach: Brady Muth
Starters Returning: 7 OFFENSE / 5 DEFENSE
Impact Players: Tyler Sohler, Rugby Ryken, Gavin Swanson, Cody Oswald, Cayson Stohr, Dominic Antrobus, Austin Gobel, Trevor Paulson, Charlie Foote, Rayner Roig, Mac Ryken, Cooper Grotenhuis
The Bucks got their mojo back last season and made a strong push to end the season. Rugby Ryken is one of the top playmakers in the state and is back at starting QB. This has been a very athletic and fun group for Coach Brady Muth, “This has been a great group in the offseason. I really like how hard they have worked and desire they must put together a good team. We have had some major changes to our coaching staff over the past few years due to retirement, and we have some young coaches that are doing a great job with our athletes.” The overall speed and physical nature of this team makes them a threat in Class 11AA.
3. Tea Area
Head Coach: Scott Frey
Starters Returning: 5 OFFENSE / 5 DEFENSE
Impact Players: Chase VanTol, Reis Kirschenman, Blake Thompson, Griffin Schnider, Connor McKinney, Jackson Smythe, Nathan Babb, Jessen Weibenga, Maddix Slykhuis, Parker Mulder
The Titans marched into class 11AA and won their first 11 games before losing in the championship to Pierre. Former head coach Craig Clayberg accepted the AD position and turned over the reigns to long time assistant Scott Frey who aims to keep the “Titan Way” going, “Entering our second year in class AA, all our opponents have now seen our strengths and weaknesses. Last year, they had not seen us play in person. Developing depth across the roster in a bigger class will be a challenge for a few years.”
Reis Kirschenman could be one of the top defensive players in the state regardless of class, he’s committed to play at SDSU next year. Chase VanTol is one of the most versatile players around, he can run, play defense and even kick. Just because their quarterback Maddix Slykhuis is a new starter doesn’t mean he’s new to the team. Slykhuis has been hanging around the team his whole life and has a chance to show what he can do as a senior this year.
4. Brookings Bobcats
Head Coach: Brady Clark
Starters Returning: 4 OFFENSE / 3 DEFENSE
Impact Players: Justin Cofell, Tyson Brandt, Jaxton Eck, Israel Caldron, Jackson Hofman, Carter Wright
Since Brady Clark took over in Brookings the program has surged into contention each year. This year with fewer returning players it will be more of a challenge for the Bobcats, “We are young, but we have a lot of athletes that are excited about the opportunities ahead of them. We have a great group of core leaders that have done an exceptional job of holding our young guys accountable and helping them prepare for the upcoming season.” Tyson Brandt showed some explosiveness last season at running back and should be fun to watch this year. Jaxton Eck is one of the top defensive players in the class. Brookings should get better as the season goes on.
5. Spearfish Spartans
Head Coach: Dalton Wademan
Starters Returning: 7 OFFENSE / 5 DEFENSE
Impact Players: Seth Hamilton, Brady Hartwig, Dawson Wood, Kolter Robbins, Brayden Delahoyde, Bridger Niehaus, Brady Hartwig, Caden Langenfeld, Carter Lyon, Aiden Haught
Maybe I’m a year ahead in thinking that Spearfish is a top five team, but they won four games last year and return several leaders to team this year. Coach Wademan sees the progress as well, “The progress this team has made the last two years and the desire to continue to get better as a team. A lot of these guys that are going to get significant time for us also got significant time as freshmen and sophomores. We are excited to get to compete with juniors and seniors who have experience, against other juniors and seniors.” Brayden Delahoyde and Brady Hartwig have been leaders for the past couple of years and are good football players. If Spearfish can manage the battles up front with a lack of size, they can play with anyone in the class.
The Kernels won four games last year and bring back five offensive starters and four on defense. Treyson Schulz is back at quarterback and gives Mitchell a big body with a strong arm as a dual threat in the pocket. Jagger Tyler was an all-state honorable mention last year and leads the defense from his safety spot. Head Coach Kent VanOVerschelde likes the team’s makeup, “We have a solid core of players, and it is up to our staff and leaders to develop our team. We need to focus on competing and improving, and give ourselves a chance to a competitive football team.”
After a promising start the Arrows ran into a wall last year. They bring back four starters on offense including Juven Hudson at running back to try to get them back on track. Look for Alex Khare or Marcus Rabine to take over for Norberg at quarterback this year. Austin Johnson, Caden Beauchamp, and Jake Robel lead a solid group of defenders. “We are very excited about this year‘s group. We have a good group of lineman coming back and a strong backfield,” said Coach John Hodorff.
Justin Briese takes over as head coach after a playoff push landed the Golden Eagles in the semifinals last season. They will have to replace some big time playmakers but have over half their starters back to do so. Karson Carda will see most of the focus on offense. He is a strong back who gained 1200 yards last year and has improved in the offseason. Austin Erickson, Drew Salfrank, Jacob Krenz, and Samson Flakus all return to the lineup with Dustin Hermansen and Parker Lemer competing for the quarterback spot. "The key for our team to have a successful season is to take it one game at a time,” said Briese. “We have a team full of leaders and hard workers. Will replace our experienced offensive and defensive starters from last year.”
The Scoopers hope to build off 11 seniors and an athletic bunch of kids. They have five starters back on offense and 8 more on defense. Head Coach Chris Koletzky sums up the outlook, “We have good skill guys back who are athletic but we need to build up our inexperience line to have success.” They bring back Reese Jacobs who will see time at H-Back on offense and start at inside linebacker on defense. Look for Owen Cass to take another big step forward at quarterback this season. He has a lot of weapons to help him out like, Gunner Rohloff, Byron Holt, Tyan Buus, Aidan Hedderman, Gavin Ligtenberg and several others. Defensively it will be hard to miss Jake Vliem, the 6-8 DE/LB.
Top Players to watch in 11AA
Preseason Player of the year: Lincoln Kienholz, Pierre
Karson Carda, Aberdeen Central
Brayden Delahoyde, Spearfish
Jaxton Eck, Brookings
Juven Hudson, Watertown
Reis Kirschenman, Tea Area
Jason Maciejczak, Pierre
Jack Merkwan, Pierre
Rugby Ryken, Yankton
Jagger Tyler, Mitchell
Chase Van Tol, Tea Area
More Players to watch
Christian Busch, Pierre
Jacob Mayer, Pierre
Gavin Stotts, Pierre
Jayden Wiebe, Pierre
Jett Zabel, Pierre
Cody Oswald, Yankton
Tyler Sohler, Yankton
Jackson Smythe, Tea Area
Elliot Devries, Huron
Brady Hartwig, Spearfish
Reese Jacobs, Sturgis