The Dakota State Trojans finished their season with a heart-breaking overtime loss in the NSAA semi-finals to NAIA’s 25th ranked Bellevue University. With the loss, the Trojans finished with a 16-16 record overall and an 8-8 record in regular season conference play.
Although their season ended without an appearance in the national tournament, the Trojans had many good things to hang their hat on as the season came to end. Two seniors on this years’ squad had very outstanding individual seasons. Senior Forward, Kyle Kilgore, finished his last campaign with DSU averaging nearly 17.6 points per game while shooting close to an impressive 58% from the field. In addition to his scoring, Kilgore averaged close to 8.8 rebounds per game. Kilgore was a player who was an offensive power this season, as many opposing defenses had to set their game-plan around Kilgore’s offensive skills, opening up opportunities on the floor for his teammates to step up.
Senior guard Tanner Heiser was another Trojan having an outstanding year for the Trojans. As some of you may remember, Tanner Heiser showed off his skills in multiple games this year, most notably hitting game-winners against Presentation College and Dickinson State with just seconds remaining on the clock in both contests. He averaged close to 14.4 points per game in his senior campaign, as well as leading DSU in assists per game with 4.4, and steals pregame with nearly 1.8 per game. Those numbers earned him some top rankings in Division II men’s basketball. He ranked 21st in total steals with 57, and 24th in total assists with 142. It’s no doubt that Heiser was a great leader at the point guard position and his playmaking ability and creating opportunities for others will be a hole that the Trojans will need to be able to fill next year.
In addition to DSU’s senior leadership, the Trojans also have some up and coming talent they can look forward to seeing on the court in the next few seasons. Sophomore forward Justin Folkers was a great compliment to Kyle Kilgore down in the low block. Folkers had a good season in his own right, averaging 10.5 points per game, and shooting an outstanding 59% from the field. Folkers also averaged nearly 4.8 rebounds per game in his sophomore campaign. He is a promising young talent, but will also need to continue to improve. With the loss of Kyle Kilgore, anyone playing the forward position will have some big shoes to fill.
Another player with a chance to step up next year, is junior guard Kevin Daniels. Daniels emerged later in the season and became a very valuable weapon off the bench. He averaged 11.3 points per game during the season. He should prove to be valuable again next season, along with fellow junior guard and sharpshooter, Ian Barse. In his junior campaign, Barse was able to knock down 51 three-pointers, coming in second only to Tanner Heiser. His shooting also helped propel some of those big wins, including some big three pointers in the Trojans’ upset of in-state rival Dakota Wesleyan. Daniels and Barse should prove to be a dangerous back-court duo as the Trojans look forward to next season.
Although the season did not end the way Dakota State would have liked, with an opportunity to see if they could make some noise in the national tournament, there was still a lot of positives for this team to take away. After coming out to a 3-8 record to begin the season, the squad never stopped battling through the tough times. As mentioned before, the Trojans were able to upset in-state rival Dakota Wesleyan, and had quite a few games where the team was able to battle some of NAIA’s top 25 teams right down to the final buzzer. There is always a challenge for teams to fight back from a rough start, and this squad showed no fear throughout the season and no doubt that they could battle back. The Trojans really came together mid-season and starting winning some high-quality basketball games, and it took the 25th ranked team in NAIA to knock them out of the season. With the young talent returning next year, it should be interesting to see how the Trojans will improve in the offseason, and how well they can come together as a team next season.