As McLean served up American Pie,' Sioux Valley hoops delivered hot results on the court

SIOUX VALLEY -- "But February made me shiver with every paper I delivered," sang Don McLean in his 1972 classic "American Pie." Well, it's February and it is shivering cold -- just like it was 35 years ago. But that winter, when I was a junior at...

SIOUX VALLEY -- "But February made me shiver with every paper I delivered," sang Don McLean in his 1972 classic "American Pie."

Well, it's February and it is shivering cold -- just like it was 35 years ago. But that winter, when I was a junior at Dakota State College in Madison, S.D., and could not start my '63 Blue Dodge Coronet (push-button transmission) when the mercury dipped to minus-36 one morning -- there was a "hot'" basketball team along the southern Minnesota border.

Rich in basketball tradition, the small country school located in Sioux Valley Township of Jackson County was having a banner season in 1972 -- one it would repeat a year later.

How small was Sioux Valley High School?

The Class of 1971 graduated just eight students, followed by 14 seniors in 1972 and 12 graduates in 1973.


There were just 11 boys in the top two grades in the '71-72 school year -- but they were good at sports, especially basketball.

Paced by the stellar allaround play and versatile -- even ambidextrous -- scoring abilities of Keith Place, the Warriors won 43 games during those two magical seasons, while losing just three times.

"Keith could shoot well with either hand, depending upon the side of the basket he was on," says Mike Traphagen, who played with Place at Worthington Community College a couple of years later. "He was a smart all-around player (who) could rebound, pass, and play tough defense."

In the winter that "American Pie" topped the music charts, the Warrior starters were seniors Bill Brandt (6-1), Dale Kazemba (5-11) and Gary Place (5-10), along with junior Keith Place (6-1) and either junior Steve Pohlman (5-10) or sophomore Mike Wendel (6-0).

The Warriors, coached for the third year by Lyle Babcock, romped through the Southern Star Conference undefeated (12-0), posting double-figure wins in most games.

A big non-conference victory came on the evening of Feb. 1, when Keith Place scored 26 points and Brandt ripped down 25 rebounds as the Warriors blitzed Harris-Lake Park (its across-the-border rival), 71-48, at Sioux Valley, upping the team's record to 14-0.

A 97-47 spanking of East Chain came next, before the Little Rock Rockets snapped the Warrior winning streak at 15 with a 67-52 victory at Little Rock, Iowa, Feb. 8.

"We were up by seven points (16-9) after the first quarter," remembers Keith Place (K.P.), who scored 1,073 points in his varsity career and has taught agriculture in the Heron Lake-Okabena School District since 1980. "Little Rock took a onepoint halftime lead and then gradually pulled away in the second half."


Babcock's crew bounced back with four straight wins over Brewster (84-37), Lakefield (116-74), Okabena (72-69) and Round Lake (57-39) to finish the regular season at 19-1, and entered the District 7 Tournament as the top-seeded team.

Kazemba (28), Wendel (22), Brandt (19) and K.P. (19) combined for 88 points in the 116-point night against Lakefield -- a game in which Brandt snagged an amazing 31 rebounds. Keith Rue poured in a game-high 33 points for the Panthers.

Kazemba scored 30 points in the closely-contested victory over Okabena, while Mike Hussong paced the Bluehawks with 24 points. Teammate Mark DeWall, who was a big rebounder for OHS, scored 22 points in Okabena's 73-72 victory over Chandler one game later.

After earning a 38-17 halftime lead, the Warriors defeated Butterfield (71-48) in the District 7 quarterfinals, sparked by K.P's 25 points.

All five starters scored in double figures in Sioux Valley's 64-52 semifinal win over Storden-Jeffers, as Kazemba (16), Keith Place (14), Wendel (12), Brandt (12) and Gary Place (10) did all the scoring.

Meanwhile, the Windom Eagles advanced to the title game by winning a hard-fought battle over rival Jackson (58-56) as junior guard Lew Olson tallied 27 points.

Meeting at Worthington on Friday, March 10, 1972, the Warriors and Eagles stood toe-to-toe through four close quarters of thrilling action.

Brandt and K.P. both scored often in the first quarter, staking Sioux Valley to a 21-17 lead. But the Eagles eventually won the contest -- repeating as District 7 champs -- with a hardfought 64-62 decision.


"It was an exciting and close game all the way," recalls Brandt, who scored 22 points in the title tilt and had been a terror on the boards for the Warriors all season long. "Fans were packed to the rafters and most of them were pulling for Sioux Valley."

The Warriors battled the Eagles to the wire, leading by three points with five minutes to play, then -- after falling behind -- had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds.

"Playing in that game, with that huge crowd in that big gym, was the highlight of my basketball career," said Brandt, who along with Kazemba was a three-year starter for the Warriors -- who were 52-12 during that span.

Both Kazemba (who averaged a team-high 20.4 points per game his senior season) and Brandt (who averaged 19.8 rebounds per game that year) now have sons playing for Jackson County Central.

"Dale got lots of layups off of Bill's rebounds," said K.P. "We could score in about three seconds on some of those fastbreaks."

Brandt, Kazemba and Gary Place graduated off of that stellar team, but Babcock kept the Warrior tradition rolling the next winter with Wendel, Pohlman and K.P. joined in the starting line-up by senior Darold "Tub" Voss and junior Doug Hanson at the guard positions.

Pohlman had great speed (sub 51-second quarter-miler in track) and Voss became a fine floor general, directing the Warriors to another undefeated Southern Star Conference championship.

Sophomore Kevin Place (5-foot-11) was a steady sixthman for the Warriors in '72-73, playing especially strong in victories over Round Lake and Welcome.


In fact, during that winter when Elton John's "Crocodile Rock" took you back to the '50s, SVHS won all of its basketball games, taking a perfect 20-0 record into the District 7 Tournament.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, Windom was a state powerhouse that season, having earned the No. 1 ranking in Class A in mid-January. A onepoint loss (52-51) to Luverne on the Cardinals' court was the only Eagle setback.

With five tall senior starters -- Mike Anderson (6-4), Dan Fossing (6-4), Doug Miller (6-7), Olson (6-2) and Bruce Earlewine (6-2) -- the Eagles later defeated Luverne (63-54) at Windom as coach Jack Kelly primed his talented team up for tournament play.

The much-anticipated rematch materialized as both the Warriors and Eagles mowed down their tourney opponents, while the huge hits "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" (sung by Dawn, featuring Tony Orlando) and "Little Willy" (by The Sweet) were being played over and over on local radio stations.

Windom advanced with big wins over Mountain Lake (60-32) and Westbrook (92-55).

After defeating Storden-Jeffers (69-54) in the quarterfinals, Sioux Valley faced a huge challenge from coach Loren Marschel's Okabena Bluehawks, escaping with a 59-58 victory. Junior guard Tim Spencer scored 21 points to lead the Bluehawks' upset bid. Place and Wendel tallied 22 and 21 points, respectively, for the Warriors.

Meeting again on the Worthington court, Windom and Sioux Valley battled for the District 7 championship on March 9, 1973.

Utilizing an aggressive, extended 1-3-1 zone defense, the Eagles stretched a 35-31 halftime lead into a 73-59 victory, sending Windom to the Region 2 Tournament for a third consecutive year.


Eagle guards Earlewine (21) and Olson (15) teamed together for 36 points, while Place (23), Wendel (17) and Hanson (10) combined for 50 of the Warrior points.

Windom advanced to the state tournament with regional victories over defending state champion St. James (62-61) and 1970 state champion Sherburn (76-65), taking a 24-1 record to Williams Arena.

The Eagles lost to Mound (58-53), whipped Mahnomen (76-47) and were defeated by Preston (71-63) at the state tourney, finishing sixth with a final record of 25-3.

Sioux Valley, which won all 14 of its conference games, led the Southern Star in both offensive (69.2) and defensive (47.1) averages in the '72-'73 season.

Place, Wendel, Voss and Pohlman each earned All-Conference honors, as the Warriors won their third league title in four years.

Place led the league in scoring (19.9 ppg), while Wendel was seventh (14.8).

Round Lake's Dan Jensen (17.0) and Dave Frodermann (13.4) ranked fourth and eighth, respectively, in the final conference scoring statistics, while Brewster's Ed Martinson (17.6) finished third and Okabena's Reed Scheppman (12.6) was 10th.

Jensen led the conference in rebounding, while Wendel was second. Place (fourth), Frodermann (eighth) and Brewster's duo of Jerry Luinenberg and Jim Naumann finished ninth and 10th in the Southern Star rebounding statistics -- the year that the POW's were finally coming home from Vietnam and the siege at Wounded Knee (S.D.) made national headlines for several weeks -- back in 1973.

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