SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Two homegrown western South Dakota student athletes announced big plans this week.
Recent Little Wound graduate and former Class A boys golf state champion Lance Christensen Jr. plans to play at New Mexico State University this fall. Winner senior and girls basketball standout Bella Swedlund tweeted her commitment to Kansas University.
“It’s awesome. That’s the goal, to give kids opportunities to go Division I,” Christensen told KELOLAND News. “South Dakota has the talent, plain and simple.”
On Twitter, Christensen and Swedlund congratulated each other on representing West River communities.
“Growing up in Kyle, South Dakota, there’s no big fitness centers or rec centers,” Christensen said. “You got your school. You got your community and that’s pretty much what it is. I think you could kind of say the same for Bella in Winner.”
Swedlund called students in the South Dakota High School Activities Association Region 7 “hard workers.” She said there’s a lot of great athletes that get unnoticed each season, but they all enjoy seeing others succeed.
“I remember when Lance was on ESPN and we were all just so excited because not only was he from South Dakota, but he was from West River,” Swedlund said. “We always say, ‘West does it best.’”
According to the most recent census, the population of West River is 259,165 compared to 611,473 East River. Christensen, one of only two South Dakota state boys golf champions from an Indian Reservation, said he’s embraced some of the challenges from his hometown.
“I don’t have a golf course within 45 miles of me,” Christensen said. “I’ve had to work probably a lot harder than any of my competition across the country and I take a lot of pride in that. It’s taught me to keep on going.”
For Swedlund, playing high school sports in a small town has been a blessing. She said she’s had people come up to her at the grocery store and tell her how excited they are for home games.
“It’s amazing,” Swedlund said. “Each sport has the biggest support system.”
Christensen looking forward to golfing year-round
Fresh off an eighth-place finish in the Class A boys high jump at the state track meet, Christensen said he’s got a normal summer planned. He’ll play in a few tournaments for the South Dakota Junior Tour and the High School Golf National Invitational at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. He’ll work some hours and golf before heading to Las Cruces, New Mexico, in mid-August.
Christensen said knowing his friend Aidan Thomas, a current member of the New Mexico State golf team, helped play a role in his decision but he was always looking for nicer weather.
“No. 1 was the warm climate,” Christensen said. “A lot of golfers around the country have been golfing 12 months out of the year for their entire life.”
Christensen said he’ll keep trying to grow the game of golf on the Pine Ridge Reservation and other reservations. For his first college season, he’s aiming to find ways to improve.
Swedlund glad college decision is done before senior year
After first receiving an offer for Kansas in April, Swedlund said she had to wait and see the campus on an official visit before deciding. After a trip to Lawrence, Kansas, last week, she was ready to officially become a Jayhawk. She loved historic Allen Fieldhouse, calling it “the basketball capital of the world.”
“Just being able to walk out on that court and thinking, ‘Wow, this could me,’” Swedlund said. “You can imagine all the screaming fans. Especially at boys games, but their girl games attract a lot.”
Swedlund said she’s focusing on her senior year of school and senior season.
“I still think about third place about ten times a day,” Swedlund said. “I’m excited to have one more year.”
And like many prep girls basketball standouts before her, she hopes girls basketball continues to gain attention.
“It’s really nice to see these South Dakota girls represented the right way especially with how much has changed with girls basketball,” Swedlund said. “There’s more people at state tournaments and a lot of different things that go with it.”