Wednesday, April 17, 2024

SKC Lady Bison win national championship

by Brandon Hansen / For The Leader
| March 14, 2024 12:00 AM

The SKC Lady Bison are national champions again.

The 2024 American Indian Higher Education Consortium featured the best American Indian schools in the country facing off in both men’s and women’s basketball at Concordia College March 5-7.

The Lady Bison came into the tournament with a 14-1 regular season record and had high expectations.

"Our strengths have been a big in-and-out game with our two standout posts – Tamika Guardipee and Alia Wallace," said SKC Coach Melissa Tiensvold, who coaches both the men’s and women’s teams. "Then we have a backdoor cut that is pretty hard to stop. Our defense was amazing in the tournament and we would run a full-court press for entire games."

The AIHEC Tournament is a three-day event that includes pool and bracket play, with squads playing two games daily.

The Lady Bison went 3-0 in bracket play and powered through the quarter and semifinals. SKC defeated Oglala Lakota College 55-40 for the championship. It was SKC's first national title since 2017 and seventh overall for the women.

"It started off really well for us, knocking down shots and rebounding, which is always essential," Tiensvold said. “We started off hot, got ahead by nine at the half, and settled in after halftime to blow it open."

Last year, the Lady Bison fell in the AIHEC semifinals to the eventual champions. While they got third place, it left the squad wanting more.

"We kind of regrouped and started earlier with our strength and conditioning, as our strength coach gave us drills on how to be more explosive," Tiensvold said. “We have been at it since October, and our team really deserves this. They have worked really hard over the past six to eight months."

Depth also helped the Lady Bison as they took 11 players to the tournament and played most of them every game.

"We were able to rest them and cycle through our players, and that helped us a lot," Tiensvold said.

Since Tiensvold is the head coach of both the men's and women's programs, it can be pretty intense, especially during a tournament like AIHEC. Tiensvold credited her assistant coach Marty Wallace, who shares the same coaching philosophy to allow for her to bounce between teams when needed.

Guardipee was named to the All-AIHEC team while Kaylani Smart was named the MVP of the AIHEC Tournament.

The men's SKC Bison team went 3-1 in pool play and made it to the semifinals. They finished fourth at the tournament.

"Our guys battled and played extremely well," Tiensvold said. She added that Will Mesteth Jr. and Dominique LaForge each had standout games for the Bison.

"AIHEC was a great experience for our student-athletes," Tiensvold said. "We got to Minneapolis a day early, and we were able to go to a Minnesota Timberwolves game. We also had our AIHEC meeting and went to dinner. It was a very good atmosphere."

Tiensvold said that SKC will get the teams together to celebrate their accomplishments. She hopes they'll be able to cut down the nets in Pablo as part of the festivities.