SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The five girl and five boy finalists have been announced for the Sanford Pentagon/KELOLAND Media Group Players of the Year.
The winners of this year’s Player of the Year awards will be revealed during the All-Star Special that airs on KELO-TV at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 16.
The five girls finalists for the Player of the Year were announced one at a time from April 5-9.
April 5 – Ndjakalenga Mwenentanda – Sioux Falls Washington Junior
In her second season as a starter for Washington, Ndjakalenga Mwenentanda grew into an all-around player who averaged more than 14 points and 7 rebounds per contest.
“I just have a hard work mentality and I just be me on the court. Whether that is get as many rebounds as I can or whether that’s make a great pass for a teammate to shoot or maybe take the game winning shot, so that we can get to the next level. It’s just that willingness to be a team player and trust in my teammates,” Washington junior Ndjakalenga Mwenentanda said.
April 6 – Caelyn Valandra-Prue – White River Senior
Even with missing most of her junior season, Valandra-Prue finishes her career as the eighth leading scorer in state history.
“I’m up there with one of the few greatest basketball players that have ever played in South Dakota. It really means a lot. I got to thank my team too because I couldn’t have done it without them,” Valandra-Prue said.
Valandra-Prue is set to continue her athletic career at the University of South Dakota as part of the Coyotes’ track and field program.
April 7 – Lexi Unruh – Sioux Falls Christian Senior
Unruh leaves as the Chargers’ second all-time leading scorer even after missing nearly her entire junior season because of a torn ACL. An experience that provided invaluable lessons.
“I learned that I have to work for everything that I want. It wasn’t going to be easy. But, if I put the time in, I put the work in, I could do it,” Unruh said.
Unruh will continue her basketball career next year at Creighton.
April 8 – Sydni Schetnan – Sioux Falls Washington Senior
Schetnan tallied a staggering 81 blocks in her senior season, shattering the Washington school record, and ascending her career total to 186.
“As a coach, that number is just off the charts and you can probably add on another 25-30 times where she changed a kids shot that she didn’t get to. To have somebody, under the rim that can do that, is just crazy,” Parish said.
“It’s definitely a momentum changer. Just shutting down an offensive play like that is just usually a really, really good momentum builder for our team,” Schetnan said.
Schetnan leaves Washington as the all-time leader in blocks. She was also a big part to the Warriors state championship run this past season.
April 9 – Haleigh Timmer- St. Thomas More Senior
Timmer’s abilities on the court caught the eye of Cavaliers Head Coach Brandon Kandolin when she was in sixth grade.
“At that point it was very obvious that she was quicker than some. She had this knack of getting to the basket,” St. Thomas More Head Coach Brandon Kandolin said.
Timmer started dressing for varsity during the state tournament as an 8th grader. It was around that time when she started developing aspirations of playing beyond high school.
“Having those role models in my middle school years kind of inspired me to play. And I also just love the game so I knew I wanted to continue on,” Timmer said.
Timmer was a part of two Cavaliers state championships in her eighth and ninth grade seasons. She’s continuing her basketball career next year at SDSU.
The five boys Player of the Year finalists were announced one day at a time starting April 11-15.
April 11 – Connor Libis – Dell Rapids St. Mary Senior
With each passing year, Libis continued to improve, and so did the Cardinals, as they qualified for the state tournament for the first time in 16 years this season.
“It’s been a long battle. I mean, seventh grade year, we only had one win, we were 1-20 and to come here, play in the state tournament and be a part of that, I mean I think it is a testament to my teammates and being able to battle every year in and out and finally get to that point,” Libis said.
“We wanted to send out our seniors on a high note for all the hard work and dedication that they have given to the program. Not many teams can say that they finished their season on a win, let alone a 20-win season within our program. We have a lot to be proud of,” Dell Rapids St. Mary head coach Colby Fitzgerald said.
Libis finishes his career with 2,731 points. He’ll continue his basketball career next year at Briar Cliff.
April 12 – Joe Sayler – White River Sophomore
After leading the Tigers in scoring as a freshman, he’d add a new element to his offensive attack in his second season.
“He’s probably been one of our most consistent dunkers when he gets the chance! He’s athletic and he can get up, and he’s long and can dunk it when he gets the chance to do it, you know. It gets the crowd psyched up, our bench psyched up and all his teammates psyched up,” Head Coach Eldon Marshall said.
Sayler averaged nearly 29 points and 6 rebounds per contest this season. He’s currently verbally committed to play basketball at SDSU.
April 13 – Matthew Mors – Yankton Senior
Mors left the court for the final time in his decorated basketball career in Yankton’s win over Washington at the state tournament.
“When the final person came in for me at the end, it just seemed kind of surreal that this was it. And the end of one chapter and the beginning of another one as well,” Mors said.
“For everyone else in the state, they’re probably like, ‘Matthew is finally a senior. It seems like he’s been there forever.’ For us here in Yankton, it seems like it went by in a flash,” head coach Chris Haynes said.
Mors finished his career with 2,707 points, most by any Class AA player ever. He’ll continue his basketball career next year at the University of Wisconsin.
April 14 – Paul Bruns – Dakota Valley Senior
Bruns capped off his career with eye popping numbers once again averaging more than 27 points per game while also grabbing 13 rebounds per contest.
“I don’t know how many games he had over 20 rebounds but it’s just incredible. You know he reads the ball off the rim and competes for the 50-50 rebounds like no kids we’ve ever had or seen,” Kleis said.
For all the impressive stats he put up, Bruns felt he improved most as a leader.
“Just making sure my teammates are involved. Just making sure they’re doing everything they need to do and helping them out anyway I could,” Bruns said.
Bruns will continue his basketball career next year playing for Paul Sather at the University of North Dakota.
April 15 – Kalen Garry – De Smet Junior
With a state championship and player of the year nomination in hand, the soon to be senior will look to build upon that this offseason.
“I need to work on my ball handling, defending, have quicker feet so I can defend better and faster kids and extend my shooting range, that’s for sure,” Garry said.
“He’ll keep pushing himself to keep growing and keep getting better and adjust to what teams do to try and limit his touches,” Gruenhagen said.
Garry averaged nearly 23 points and 7 rebounds per game this season, team highs. He’s also De Smet’s all-time leading scorer with 1,615 points, eclipsing Matt Sutton’s previous mark.
The Sanford Pentagon/KELOLAND Media Group All-Star Special will air on Friday, April 16 at 6:30 on KELO-TV. This year’s special guest speaker will be SDSU head coach Eric Henderson.