A record 19 consecutive wins has been seen twice in Vermillion High School boys basketball history before this season, but the 2020-21 team set out to top that mark Monday night.
In the regular season finale, the Tanagers hosted Canton to go for a school record 20th consecutive victory and complete the second undefeated season in school history.
“So tonight, not only to go undefeated but also to have set the new school record with 20 consecutive wins, it’s just nice for our group,” Vermillion boys basketball coach Jay Drake said.
The Tanagers picked up the win in decisive fashion, defeating Canton 82-36, finishing the regular season 20-0 and winning the Dakota XII Conference title with a 10-0 record. Vermillion senior Dillion Gestring summarized the feeling with a simple phrase, “really good.”
Monday’s season finale was also the first game of the season that junior Charlie Ward dressed for. Ward injured his knee toward the end of the football season and has been recovering ever since. Drake said the team asked to have Ward dress for the season finale, and Ward was able to get in for the final minute of the blowout and hit a three-pointer.
“That’s what the one thing with the season like this you feel bad for a kid like him,” Drake said. “He’s been a part of everything, but he would have been a huge factor and a huge part of our what we did this year. And so to have him come in knock down a shot and be a part of this, today it was great.”
Gestring and the Tanagers were a win away from making it to the State tournament last season, losing in the SoDak16. Since the loss, the Tanagers did something only one team in school history had done, and one other school in the state did this season (Castlewood girls).
“We just got, and it sounds so cliche, but just a great group of kids,” Drake said. “They buy into everything we’ve said as a coaching staff. They play extremely hard, and it’s not real fancy, you know. We look at our group sometimes, and I think people look out there and they say hey this team is undefeated?”
Drake said what has made this team different from past Tanager teams that came up just short of the state tournament is that this team hasn’t spent the time to acknowledge how close they were.
“We’ve had some real good teams for the last eight, nine years and we’ve just come up just short,” Drake said. “And, you know, we probably talked about it too much with our past teams. We really haven’t talked a lot about state tournament this year. A lot of it because I think the guys just know. We know what’s there, it’s like that elephant in the corner. It’s our ultimate goal, obviously.”
Gestring said that the team was a bit scared last season, playing in the SoDak16, but they are working harder to prevent a repeat of last season.
“(We) just work that much harder and be prepared this time,” Gestring said. “I think last time we were all a little scared going into it.”
Gestring said that the loss has give the team more motivation to make it one step further.
The Tanagers now prepare to play in Regions, where Vermillion hopes to hold on to the number one seed in Region 4A. The Tanagers currently hold the top spot in seed points with 46.200, with Dakota Valley close behind at a 17-2 record and 46.000 seed points. Dakota Valley finishes its season at home against Lennox Feb. 26.