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Experienced Howard looking to maximize state tournament opportunity

Mar. 12—HOWARD — Howard's boys basketball team is back in the state tournament for the first time since 1995.

And backed by sixth-year head coach Nick Koepsell and a flock of upperclassmen, the fifth-seeded Tigers are eager for the opportunity to compete in Aberdeen in the Class B tournament, when they face fourth-seeded Wessington Springs at 1:45 p.m. Thursday.

"It's exciting," Koepsell said. "You try to keep the guys loose. It's the quarterfinals of the state tournament, but yet they have accomplished a lot already and hopefully they realize that. So it's it's pretty cool experience for everybody involved."

The Tigers (20-3) reached the state tournament behind a strong cast of upperclassmen. The defensive-minded group is fronted by Kolt Koepsell, a 6-foot-8 senior, who has had a tremendous season.

Making his impact known on both ends of the hardwood and forcing opponents to scheme around him, Kolt scores 14.7 points per game, and can pass out of double teams, averaging 3.5 assists per game. Defensively, he blocks 2.5 shots per game, and averages nearly 10 rebounds.

Junior guard Luke Koepsell leads the team in scoring with 15 points per game, while seniors Colby Claussen and Logan Mentele average seven points a game, and senior Taiden Hoyer scores six points a game.

According to Luke Koepsell, the entire team has been focused on getting to this point of the season.

"We have a pregame preseason meeting every year and one of our goals every year obviously is to make it to the state tournament," Luke Koepsell said. "To finally accomplish that goal feels pretty good. With that excitement comes pressure, and we know we can perform up there, so we're excited to go up there and just play basketball."

The Tigers played a rigorous schedule to reach this point, including four games against teams also in the Class B quarterfinals. They showed well in those matchups, defeating Wessington Springs, Gregory and Viborg-Hurley, while losing to De Smet.

In the Region 3B tournament, Howard eased past Mitchell Christian and Chester, then used a big fourth quarter to pull past Philip 45-28 in the SoDak 16. The run set up a rematch with the Spartans, who the Tigers defeated 38-33 on Dec. 16.

Koepsell anticipates the rematch to look completely different than the first game.

"To be quite honest, we weren't playing very well during the month of December when we ran into them and I don't know that they would admit that they played their best game either," Koepsell said. " ... So I don't know if you can take a whole lot of stock into our first matchup."

The Tigers have rode their defense to victory several times this season, including the win over Wessington Springs. But Koepsell, who pointed out Wessington Springs' length and athletic ability make them a challenge, believes his team will have to do more offensively to win the rematch.

"To beat them we're going to have to knock down some shots," Koepsell said. "They doubled our posts pretty hard the first game and they had a lot of success."