SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — After finishing runner-up in 2020, Dell Rapids St. Mary would return to the dome a year later and claim the 9B State Championship. Now the Cardinals are preparing to defend their title in 2022.

Dell Rapids St. Mary went 4-3 in last year’s regular season, but the Cardinals knew they needed to be better in the playoffs.

“We kind of had a come to Jesus moment where we talked about it. We needed to figure some stuff out,” St. Mary senior CJ Smith said. “We had a big talk as a team of what we needed to do. We just turned it around and started working harder.”

St. Mary would win their four playoff games, while scoring nearly 40 points per contest. That production helped lead the Cardinals to their first ever state championship.

“Obviously last year, we all got to taste what it was like to be state champions. There are a lot of kids that are hungry for it again and obviously want to go back,” St. Mary senior Gabriel Lindeman said. “It’s something that has been driving us to work harder in the offseason and I’m really looking forward to the season because of it.”

“We’ve got a big target on our back this year and we really want to get back out there and try to win another one,” Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are working hard this year. We really just want to get back there and win another one.”

Dell Rapids graduated six seniors from last year’s team, but they return some experience as seven starters are back on the field in 2022.

“Any time you have kids that know what they’re doing and you don’t have to explain every little thing to them, they can help teach the younger kids. It’s huge,” St. Mary head coach Ross Flemmer said.

A key for the Cardinals this season will be finding their brand of football earlier than they did in 2021.

“I think this year is kind of similar. We’re going to have to figure out our identity and what we can do. We’re hoping we can piece that together earlier and get things rolling early,” Flemmer said.

The past two seasons have seen St. Mary playing their best football come playoffs and that’s exactly what the goal is for 2022.

“We really do focus on getting better, every single day and at every practice. I think if you set those short, little goals, then the rest of it takes care of itself. That’s what we have to do. We’ve got to worry about what we’re doing and not worry about anybody else,” Flemmer said.

St. Mary will open their season on on Friday, August 19 against Waverly-South Shore. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m. in Dell Rapids.