MISS VERSATILITY: MCM's Koepsell named Republic's girls basketball player of the year
SALEM — Morgan Koepsell learned some hard lessons during her basketball career.
She's come to appreciate every one of them — including her first game as a varsity basketball player when she was a seventh grader.
"You have to start somewhere and that's where I started," Koepsell said. "I was shy and I didn't want to play against the older girls. It made me realize that nothing is going to come easy and you always have to work for what you want."
Going up against girls five or possibly six years older than herself, Koepsell developed a work ethic and playing style that has made her one of the most decorated players in South Dakota. She finished her career at McCook Central/Montrose as the program leader in career points (1,995), rebounds (1,077), blocks (402) and field goal percentage (59 percent).
Despite playing a majority of her career in the post, Koepsell has the second-most career assists (184) and fifth-most steals (109). Her ability to shift from a back-to-the-basket player to the team's point guard played a key role in MCM finishing fourth at the Class A state tournament and compiling a record of 21-4.
"Being a versatile player was a big change for me," Koepsell said. "As a team leader, you have to step up to whatever the team needs. You might have to change your game a little so you and your team can be successful."
For her sensational senior season and her versatile playing style, Koepsell has been selected as The Daily Republic's girls basketball player of the year. Since 1994, the award has been voted upon by the newspaper's sports staff.
In a tightly contested vote, Koepsell received two first-place votes and finished the voting with 13 points, edging Ethan's Karly Gustafson, who received the other first-place vote and finished with 12 points. Tripp-Delmont/Armour's Mattilynn Reiner came in third with 11 points, while Avon's Lauren Sees finished with six points and Hanson's Jada Campbell had three points.
For MCM head coach Doug Durfee, Koepsell's footwork and hand coordination stood out immediately. It led him to bring her up to the varsity team as a seventh-grader and the 14-year coach saw Koepsell's skill set expand from there.
"We knew we had something special and her abilities just grew and grew," Durfee said. "She's developed so much and I'm most impressed with how she handles herself. She draws a lot of double teams and has had the attention on her throughout her career. She's stayed humble. She's 100 percent about the team."
Koepsell's statistics speak volumes. For the past two seasons, she averaged a double-double each game. While her role for the Fighting Cougars changed, she still averaged 16.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game this year. As a junior, Koepsell averaged 21.5 points and 11.1 rebounds a game, and she averaged 22 points and 8.7 rebounds as a sophomore.
"It's incredible. She's either leading or in the mix in every single statistic category the entire school has," Durfee said. "You know she's 6-foot-2, you know she can rebound and score points but you don't realize she's No. 2 in assists. Her shooting percentages are incredible."
This season, Koepsell shot 54 percent from the field, 42 percent from behind the arc and 76 percent from the free-throw line. For her career, she shot 59 percent from the field, including 67 percent during her junior season. She's in line to become a three-time Class A all-state first-team selection and she was a second-team all-state player as a freshman.
But Koepsell said she shares all the accolades with her teammates.
"I'll never forget how much my teammates helped me through this," Koepsell said. "You can't do it by yourself. Basketball is a team game and you need your teammates."
After falling one game short of qualifying for the state tournament on two different occasions, Koepsell helped the Fighting Cougars breakthrough in this year's Round of 16 game against Miller. At the Corn Palace, Koepsell fueled a second-half comeback with 29 points in MCM's 59-47 win.
"In big games, against big opponents in big situations, your studs need to step up," Durfee said. "She definitely did. There came a point in the game where she had to carry the team and put everyone on her back."
Then she did it again in the first game of the Class A state tournament. Trailing by nine points to Aberdeen Roncalli as the fourth quarter began, Koepsell scored eight-straight points to help MCM open on a 13-0 run. She finished the game with 25 points, seven rebounds and four blocks as the Fighting Cougars earned a 52-45 victory.
"You got to do some big things to get your team on a roll," Koepsell said. "It's a season I'll never forget. Getting to play with such a great group of girls that never give up, you can't ask for a better support system around you."
She finished the state tournament, averaging 19 points per game on 62 percent shooting to go with 8.3 rebounds and seven blocks.
The soft-spoken Koepsell embraced her new role as one of the team's primary ballhandlers. She also welcomed being one the team's six senior leaders. Durfee said opposing coaches and players always commented on Koepsell's sportsmanship and leadership.
"She's someone that kids can look up to. She's such a great role model," Durfee said. "I'm proud as a parent that my kids look up to her and I know other parents are, too. She plays the game the right way and treats everyone with respect."
Koepsell, who will play basketball for Black Hills State University next year, said her high school experiences on and off the court have prepared her well for the next level. She noted she's fine playing as a forward or center for the Yellow Jackets, but also added she's not afraid to handle the ball more like she did this season.
"The goal is to score points. However I can do that, I'll do it," said Koepsell, who plans to major in elementary education and minor in physical education and coaching. "I'm excited to explore new things and get away from home. I'm going to get homesick. I think everybody does, but I'm excited."
She also knows when she faces adversity, she can overcome it. Just like when she was a seventh-grader playing varsity basketball for the first time.
"Getting pushed down was big for me. It made me realize I can't give up," Koepsell said. "It shaped me immensely and made me the person I've become."
Here's a look at the rest of the award nominees with vote total in parentheses:
Karly Gustafson, Ethan (12)
The 6-foot junior forward, Gustafson helped lead the Rustlers back to the Class B state tournament and a fourth-place finish. She averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game on 49 percent shooting. At the state tournament, Gustafson averaged a double-double with 10.5 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per contest and was an all-tournament selection. The Rustlers finished the year at 22-4.
Mattilynn Reiner, Tripp-Delmont/Armour (11)
Reiner, a 5-foot-9 junior guard/forward, posted 14.8 points per game, 9.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. She stepped up for 21 points in the Round of 16 win over Waubay/Summit and 32 points in the first round at state, upsetting top-seed Faith. For the three games at state, she averaged 22.3 points per game and shot 54 percent as TDA went 22-4 and finished in third place in its first state showing as a co-op.
Lauren Sees, Avon (6)
The 5-foot-9 junior guard, Sees was the Pirates' leading scorer throughout the season, averaging 19.9 points per game, five rebounds and four assists per contest. A Class B all-tournament selection, Sees averaged 20 points per game at the state tournament, in which Avon finished eighth.
Jada Campbell, Hanson (3)
A 6-foot-3 senior, Campbell was a dominant force inside for the Beavers, who made a run to the Class B state championship game. The Beavers (22-4) finished second, with Campbell averaging 13.3 points per game, eight rebounds per contest and shot 56 percent. Campbell was a Class B all-tournament pick at the state tournament and led all Class B players with 12 rebounds per game.
1994: Erin Olson, Mitchell; 1995: NaTascha Dawson, Howard; 1996: Mandy Koupal, Wagner; 1997: Mandy Koupal, Wagner; 1998: Mandy Koupal, Wagner; 1999: Lacey Johnson, Wessington Springs; 2000: Lacey Johnson, Wessington Springs; 2001: Vanessa Yanes, Wagner (2002 Season Switch); 2003: Jenna Hoffman, Mitchell; 2004: Jeana Hoffman, Mitchell; 2005: Allison Johnson, Mount Vernon; 2006: Jill Young, Mitchell Christian; 2007: Megan Doyle, Hanson; 2008: Terri VerSteeg, Platte-Geddes; 2009: Rhianna Gullickson, Hanson; 2010: Hillary Paulson, Freeman; 2011: Kerri Young, Mitchell; 2012: Kerri Young, Mitchell; 2013: Macy Miller, Mitchell; 2014: Macy Miller, Mitchell; 2015: Myah Selland, Sanborn Central/ Woonsocket; 2016: Myah Selland, Sanborn Central/ Woonsocket; 2017: Myah Selland, Sanborn Central/ Woonsocket; 2018: Morgan Koepsell, McCook Central/Montrose.