Belle Fourche gears up for state tournament

Belle Fourche is buzzing as its girls basketball team gears up for its first state tournament appearance in 18 years ... and just its third since winning it all 23 years ago.

MANDEE WILLIAMSON SAYS, "We have, definitely a lot of community support ... and it's been a privilege to play on this court."

Part of that privilege is practicing and playing under the banner from Belle Fourche's only girls state basketball championship ... a looming reminder of a magical run in 1995 ... a run this year's edition of the Broncs hopes that decades from now could be an inspiration for a future generation.

WILLIAMSON: "We could be that next team to put a year up on that banner and it's just kind of exciting."

TAYLOR HANSON SAYS, "I know it was a long time ago (laughs) ... it's kind of driven us to work hard because we want to have another year up on the banner."

The 1995 South Dakota Miss Basketball winner, Jammie Raba, says that she sees similarities between the team she led to the title with what is still a state-tournament finals record 37 points in a 59-48 win over Howard.

RABA: "There's a lot of similarities. They have a really amazing defense and their press has caused so many problems for the other teams and we had a pretty good press too and we liked to run with the ball."

Raba, a teacher in the Belle Fourche school system who taught many of the players on this year's team when they were younger, was one of many stellar all-around athletes on that 1995 team. Current head coach Bill Burr feels the experiences his team has picked up in various athletic arenas is one of its strengths as well.

BURR: "They're not basketball athletes ... they're overall athletes."

BURR: "We've got rodeo. We've got state track with Shayla Howell. Softball. Soccer, we've got great soccer players that won state a few years ago. Golf. Volleyball. ... That's what makes us special."

Despite that all-around experience, the Broncs have had the recent misfortune of being in the same conference and region as the four-time defending state champion, St. Thomas More. This year, the Broncs finally got over the hump against the Cavaliers with a 43-42 regular-season win and a Black Hills Conference championship.

WILLIAMSON: "That just kind of boosted our confidence and helped us understand that we could, that we're capable of many things."

HANSON: "I think we actually figured out that we could win the state tournament. We got a lot of confidence after beating STM."

BURR: "For the last five years we've had to play them."

Whatever happens this week in Watertown, Raba says that this year's Broncs will be remembered for the memories they've already etched into the fiber of their community, with their own influence sure to loom over the school and program for years to come ... much like those '95 state champs. And at least one member of that state title team is already a fan, regardless of what happens this week.

RABA: "They're just a great group of girls, first of all. They're great role models for all the kids ... they've really worked hard and so hopefully something special can happen this week."

From Belle Fourche, Padraic Duffy, Black Hills FOX Sports.