'Compete and go after each other': Dickinson Trinity and Beulah get set for another title-game tussle
That is the last year a Region 7 Tournament title game did not feature either Beulah or Dickinson Trinity.
What makes that feat even more impressive is that each season, the Miners and Titans graduate a plethora of talented players, some of whom earn All-Conference nods and are even worthy of All-State recognition.
Last year was not an exception, as four seniors from the two programs were All-Region 7 selections. Entering their 2018-19 campaigns, Dickinson Trinity and Beulah had to retool and regroup.
"We basically started over this year," Beulah head coach Jeremy Brandt said. "We have a whole new team. Our most experienced kid on the floor was an eighth-grader last year; he's a freshman now. They lost a lot of seniors, too."
In the regional semifinals on Tuesday, March 5, No. 1 Dickinson Trinity and No. 2 Beulah each gained victories over teams who were much improved and had more veterans, as the Miners earned a 55-37 win over No. 3 Glen Ullin-Hebron and the Titans defeated No. 5 Hazen 54-35. With that, the two standard bearers will go toe-to-toe in a regional championship game for the fourth consecutive season.
"We've been focusing on Trinity a lot this last week since regionals has started," Miners freshman guard Trey Brandt said. "I think we got to focus on their big kid (senior forward Aric Knopik). Obviously, 22 (junior guard Matt Stafford) is a big key as part of their offense, so we got to focus on them, too. We just got to play as a team and play defense on every possession and stay sharp."
In the 2018 Region 7 title game, Beulah was victorious, but just barely, emerging with a 74-71 win in a heart-stopping, double-overtime thriller. Trey Brandt, the eighth-grader now turned freshman, is one of five returners who scored in arguably the most exciting edition of the rivalry.
"It was pretty close. I thought we played good through the stretch," Brandt said. "We had a couple players foul out, like Derek (Ferebee), Mason (Dolbec), so a lot of younger kids off the bench had to step up and play a new role. We had Michael Schmidt come in, and he played good too. We had to have a lot of new players come in off the bench."
Brandt finished that contest with eight points, as did then-junior post Isaac Fridrich before fouling out. He, along with Knopik and then-sophomore forward Seth Herner, fell victim to the attrition as those Titans watched the end of the game from the bench after reaching their five-foul limit.
"Last year, we lost a tough one," Fridrich said. "We have Aric and myself; we played quite a bit in that game and we know what it's like. We just have to prepare our other teammates for that, and for younger teammates to come in and understand that we have to be ready to play. Every play, defensively or offensively, be ready to play no matter who the opponent is."
During that classic duel, Knopik finished with 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Off the bench, Stafford poured in 10 points while Herner added three.
"That was definitely one of the best environments to play a game in," Herner said. "Any region championship is fun. When you have the whole gym yelling and screaming at you, I remember playing in that game and you can't hear your teammates, you can hardly hear yourself think it's so loud in there."
Beulah and Dickinson Trinity have had more than their fair share of moments in that environment, and most times, they have shared that stage together. Beginning with a buzzer-beater from Casey Duppong to close a 52-51 Miners win in 2010, the two teams have met with a trip to state at stake six previous times this decade, gaining three wins apiece.
"I think when you look at both schools, there's a lot of multi-sport athletes. It's not just guys that are playing basketball," Titans head coach Gregg Grinsteinner said. "I think what it comes down to is when you get into competition, especially when you have to compete over a short period of time, you have kids that are going to be competitors. ... You have a different variety of kids that come together and they just love to compete."
While the players in uniform have changed throughout the years, Grinsteinner and Jeremy Brandt are the two mainstays in the rivalry. The Beulah head coach is in his 11th season leading the program and in his 25th season of coaching overall, which is as long as his counterpart has roamed the Titans sidelines.
While he has taught the game for generations, Grinsteinner believes it's his players who have done the work to carry the school's legacy forward.
"They've seen the steps that previous teams have taken and what they've done through practices. There's continuity, but also there's a lot of tradition that goes into play," Grinsteinner said. "You develop a tradition and you want to be the next team that hangs a banner in that gym, and these kids have that opportunity."
On Thursday evening from the Knights of Columbus Activities Center, one team will not only advance to state, but will hold bragging rights over the last 10 years.
"Both teams went after each other hard (last year). I don't expect any different on Thursday night," Jeremy Brandt said. "We're both going to go after each other hard. We hang our hat and pride ourselves on the defensive end. I know Trinity does as well. So like I said, both teams are really going to compete and go after each other, and you wouldn't expect any different."