The Sioux Falls (S.D.) Christian girls basketball team rode a huge emotional wave Saturday afternoon in the Region 3A finals, overwhelming Madison 63-32 for the school's first trip to the state girls tournament since 1986.
It was the first game for the Chargers since teammate Alyssa Vollmer and three family members were killed in a one-vehicle crash on Interstate 90 west of Sioux Falls on Feb. 23. For as much as Saturday afternoon resembled a basketball game, it was just as much a memorial to Vollmer, who was a sophomore on the Christian squad.
Her name still appeared on the roster, and the majority of Charger fans in the crowd wore bright green shirts - a tribute to her favorite color - that read A.C.V. (Vollmer's initials) across the front. On the back, the Bible verse John 16:22 scrolled across the bottom of the shirt, while "We Will Always Remember The Vollmer Family" was written across the top.
Alyssa, 16, died along with her brother Caleb, 13, and parents Jim and Julie. The funeral was held Friday, and Saturday's game was moved from Thursday night as the Sioux Falls Christian community struggled with the loss of the family.
Still, through the pre-game introductions, a moment of silence, the national anthem and even post-game celebrations, not a single Charger player shed a tear.
"We let it all out before the game," said junior forward Kristin Stern. "I knew we were all going to be nervous today and have a lot of adrenaline, but I knew we could keep our composure. It was such a long week. We were ready to play."
Senior forward Hayley McCarron led SFC with 25 points, but her thoughts - along with the rest of the Christian team - turned to Vollmer as soon as the final buzzer sounded. As the Chargers received their regional championship award and a red rose following the game, each went to center court and laid the rose on the floor in memory of Vollmer.
"For all of us, this was the hardest week of our life," said McCarron, an Augustana recruit. "At the beginning of the week, it was really hard to think about playing a game. As the week went on and we started to process things, we knew this is what Alyssa would have wanted. Her big goal was to get to the state tournament. We wanted to finish what she started."
Sioux Falls Christian hosted a variety show last Saturday night, around the same time as the fatal crash. The team found out about the accident that evening, and both the basketball and volleyball teams spent the night at the school, processing the tragedy. The team practiced Monday, but it was short and not very effective. They practiced every day last week in preparation for Saturday's game, except for Friday when they attended the funeral for their fallen teammate.
"It's been difficult, but they've stood on their faith and we came out strong today," coach Andrea Begeman said. "We practiced this week, even through it all. They weren't the best practices, but we did the best that we could. We talked to the girls each day about things."
But through all of the emotions and tributes, there was still a game to play with a state tournament bid on the line. With the game tied at eight, perhaps the emotions took over for Christian as the Chargers went on a 12-0 run and the rout was on. Madison's only real threat came midway through the third period when they scored six straight to cut it to 36-23. But from that point, the Chargers outscored Madison 27-9 to put the game completely out of reach.
"We knew it was going to be an emotional situation," Madison coach Adam Ericsson said. "A tragedy like that is bigger than basketball. The girls are brokenhearted for the Sioux Falls Christian girls, and we have their back on that end. For us, today was just coming to play a basketball game, and we came up short."