Region 7A leaves lasting impression on South Dakota

By Rich Winter

For a lot of folks that follow the blogs here on the Sacred Hoops Sports Blog, I’m guessing you’ve heard me talk quite a bit about Region 7A this season. I work for the Todd County Tribune, as another job, so I write a lot about Todd County and St. Francis Indian School, and Winner, and of course the schools out west, Pine Ridge, Little Wound, Red Cloud and even Bennett County.

It was so fun to see our Region 7A teams do so well at the highest level. It was wonderful to see our communities cheering for each other, and most of all it was a breath of fresh air to see South Dakota stand up and cheer for these wonderful youth.

(Sarcasm) - Don’t know what all the fuss is about, we’ve been watching Region 7A all season. On the drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about Matt Rama’s Red Cloud Lady Crusaders had Winner, on the ropes, in Winner, leading at one juncture by 19 points.

What a great season for the Larry Aaker led Winner Warriors - Undefeated, 24-0

Winner, our neighbor to the east, went on to win the 2019 Class A state title. They ended up 24-0 and you know where their toughest games were....Region 7A.

A two-point win over Todd County, a one point win over Pine Ridge and that come from behind win over Red Cloud in late February. 

“First of all, let’s give credit to the Winner Lady Warriors. They played an awesome tournament and I am really happy for Coach Aaker. Like me, he had a lot of non-believers that wanted him out and he proved them all wrong,” Bob Boyd, Falcon coach said. “He has his State title and I am extremely happy for him. He is an outstanding basketball coach. His girls were awesome in that championship game. They are an awesome reflection of the Big Dakota Conference and Region 7A.”

Was really great to see Gabriel Kocer have the 21 point, 6 rebound effort in the SHIP. This young lady has been part of some terrific Winner teams during her career. And, she’s improved every year and had a tremendous season.

Boy, you look at that roster coming back and get ready for some great teams from Winner…#Dynasty…(if they can get out of Region 7 you guys)

The Pine Ridge boys balled out on South Dakota’s Biggest Stage:


In the boys bracket, the semi-final game between Tea Area and Pine Ridge proved to be the championship game. Tea Area might go down as one of the greatest Class A teams in the history of South Dakota.

The only loss Tea Area had this season was 78-64 vs. La Lumiere, IN, the No. 1 team in the United States of America. 

Tea Area has a bunch of kids going on to play college sports (two of them D I) and the Thorpes of Pine Ridge were right there, losing 57-51. I felt like east river wasn’t quite ready for how good these Thorpes really are. Multiple media outlets approached me and just marveled at how competitive and good the Thorpes were.

Man, I gotta say this Casey Means crew went down to Sioux Falls to win it. Some teams might have backed down…Not Pine Ridge! The Thorpes were right there and fearless. They battled, they did not back down. Interesting that Freidel had 20 at the half, but Halin Bad Bear shut big boy down in the second half where the Wright State signee was limited to 3.

That game was awesome…I don’t think I’ve ever seen two teams go at it like that. Defense was superb by the Thorpes, Charles Schrader stood up and declared him one of the top prospects of the Class of 2020 with a gritty and emotional 16 point effort against Tea Area.

That battle in the middle between Kaleb Joffer and Corey Brown was just epic…Joffer is one of those guys that does whatever it takes but Corey took it to him. Joe O’Rourke had a sick block, on Freidel, that I think they called a foul. DJ Vitalis was DJ Vitalis and Shelby Steele-Tynes mixed it up down low. Jensen and Crow were simply superb on the defensive side of the ball…Justin Hohn was very limited.

Great story in the Rapid City Journal this morning from Geoff Preston, who followed the Thorpes and talks about the impact these young men are having, on-and-off the court.

Check out the All-Tourney representatives from Todd County, Winner and Pine Ridge

At left, Kelsie Herman and Raven Cournoyer from (Todd County) and Morgan Hammerbeck and Bella Swedlud (Winner). At right, Corey Brown and Halen Bad Bear for Pine Ridge.

Wanted to share a kind cool, behind the scenes stories that really exemplifies how well region 7A fans shared the experience together. Kinda started about ten days ago.

After the Winner boys lost to Hot Springs and Pine Ridge beat Bon Homme in the SoDak 16, Winner sophomore Brady Fritz reached out to Corey Brown to buy/get some Pine Ridge Thorpe gear for the state tournament. The intention was the Winner kids were going to sit in the Pine Ridge student section and cheer for the Thorpes during the Tea Area game. 

Well, the purple-badged people wouldn’t let that happen.

And so, on championship Saturday the Pine Ridge Thorpe boys tried to sit with the Winner student-section to cheer on the Lady Warriors. 

Again, the purple-badge folks stepped in. 

Undaunted, the Thorpes snuck back onto the main floor and Corey Brown made it to the Winner student section and led the kids in doing the wave.

And then the purple-badge folks stepped in, again!

Wonderful to see kids from local schools cheering each other on. Early Friday morning a bunch of Winner fans came to see Todd County play Aberdeen Roncalli. Later that day Winner and Todd County fans were rooting for Pine Ridge vs. Tea Area. 

And then, all of Region 7A showed just how TUFF they are when Winner showed up and clobbered undefeated West Central, 63-50 in the finals. 

How about those Todd County Cheerleaders: Spirit of Six Winner


Those kids were amazing!

Wanted to share another kind of behind the scenes stories as Todd County cheer-coach Rosie Iron Heart was in Sioux Falls, at the hospital, by her father, Bill Giroux’s side. Mr. Giroux worked for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe for a number of years, and was once directing the Emergency Preparedness Program (EPP). He helped a lot of people during storms, floods, blizzards and all kinds of nasty weather. Iron Heart did an amazing job with these TC cheer squad…Lakota Nation Champs and Spirit of Six…Not sure if that’s ever been done before??

Spirit of Su winners: Raven Cournoyer and Corey Brown

At halftime of the Class A girls championship game between West Central and Winner, the Public Address Announcer asked the crowd of 12-thousand to be silent as he readied to announce the 2019 “Spirt of Su” award winner.

After a strong buildup, the announcer paused for effect and then loudly shouted...

“Raven Cournoyer from Todd County High School.”

Without hesitating the crowd of 12-thousand stood, in unison, and gave a Todd County senior a two-minute standing ovation.

With the award being judged on outstanding athletic ability, leadership, character and grade point average, the runaway  selection was Denis Cournoyer and Meredith Haukass’s daughter.

Later this summer, a documentary is being released telling the story of SuAnne Big Crow. Have seen some clips from it and it looks amazing. In one sequence during the state championship game, as SuAnne is leading her team, there was said to be a medicine man in the crowd who kept telling everyone about the blue sparks he saw coming from Big Crow as she made play after play.

“I’m a fan of hero stories because they have the ability to effect true social change,” Kaczor the filmmaker said. “The hero in a community is a positive force, and in this case it’s SuAnne.” (And Raven and Corey Brown.)

Ahhhhh Corey Brown, the senior from Pine Ridge that absolutely captured the hearts of South Dakota with his BIG-RED Mohawk, his exceptional play and his absolute commitment to good sportsmanship and leadership at all times.

Comments from state refs about Corey Brown:

Scott Hannon - “He was always very respectful every time we officiated their games.”

Bret Alan LaCroix - “The kid from Pine Ridge was an absolute exceptional leader on the court! I let him know how much I appreciate that as an official! ALWAYS the first to help an opposing player up off the court. NEVER a negative word to us or opposing players! Need more like him!”

“This guy is truly one of a kind. I enjoyed watching him play the game for sure but watching him interact with the younger generation of kids from not only Pine Ridge, but also our local Winner kids, says a lot about him and how he was brought up. A true role model......Best of luck young man,” Jim Fritz, Winner.

Won’t spend a ton of time here, BUT, how about them Lady Falcons….Whoa…Their 32 minutes of hell style of play caught people’s attention. As did their diving on the floor, sharing the basketball and hitting big shots.


By now, I think a lot of folks are award that Todd County senior, Raven Cournoyer made the Class, All-State first team and was named South Dakota Class A girls player of the year. Wanted to share just a little story about Raven. At the 2018 Lakota Nation Invitation, Cournoyer had just been awarded the MVP of the tournament…While the media was trying to scurry Cournoyer along for the money shot, Cournoyer doubled-back to get a picture of her winning this award, but with her team first. That is how this young lady and her team are built!


Wanted to give a little shout out to Red Cloud’s Alejandro Rama. I think a lot of hearts in Region 7A wobbled when this young man went down with the foot injury.

I saw this young man play a ton this season, and after just getting done watching the Class A boys tournament…

There is no better player in South Dakota than Ale Rama…Hope voters remember that when ballots are cast for bigger awards.

Had a good laugh to myself this morning….wondering how it would be to come up with a Region 7A first-team for basketball….First five, impossible…Tex Janis, Riley Cross, Aiden Bizardie, Caylen Left Hand Bull, Brady Fritz, Riyen Carlow, DeAndre Cottier, Joren Bruun, Corey Brown, Halin Bad Bear, Charles Schrader and others…No thanks, not touching that with a ten-foot pole.

Just in summary i have a special place in my heart for Region 7A…Quite often some of these kids don’t get the recognition they deserve. Brilliant to see so many talented youth participating and competing at the highest level. With some of the publicity and now with college coaches seeing what these kids can do, Region 7A just kicked down a bunch of recruiting barriers.

One final shout-out to the young ladies from Winner who sang the Lakota Flag song all season.