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Playing at another level

NEW ULM — As a high school player, Minnesota Valley Lutheran graduate Jake Kettner was often the best player on the floor, even in a tough Tomahawk Conference that featured a handful of players that went on to play at the next level.

But as he transitioned into a Division II men’s basketball player in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in his freshman year, Kettner was another player fighting for playing time in a conference loaded with players of his caliber.

“I find out that roles change a lot from high school,” Kettner said. “I found that out right away last year. Coach even said ‘I know it seems like you’re practicing with these guys, but once you’re out on the floor, it’s another level.’ It was tough for me last year coming from high school and practicing with these college guys and now playing in competitive games was another huge step, but it was a great experience this year.”

Kettner just completed his first year of playing at Sioux Falls University. He redshirted his true-freshman year, which was during the 2019-20 season and he made his debut this past season for the Cougars. He averaged 5.4 points and 2 rebounds per game this past year as the Cougars finished 5-5 in the South Division and in fifth place, just missing the league playoffs. He also averaged 19.4 minutes per game and he started three games while playing both guard positions.

After graduating from MVL in 2019, Kettner’s plan was to play for the Cougars but first he wanted to take a redshirt year to get stronger. He said he put on 20 pounds of muscle during that redshirt season and he got to gain some valuable practice time in the process.

Kettner drives to the basket in a game at USF this past season.

“That was a huge part for me,” Kettner said of his redshirt workouts. “I think when I got on campus, until right before this season, I gained like 20 or 25 pounds and that’s something I still have to improve on, but it was just really good to do that.”

In four years of varsity experience at MVL, Kettner scored 1,821 career points, which ranks second all-time in school history behind Galen Holzhueter (2,053). After his redshirt year last season, Kettner came in and got some playing time right away. He said that there were plenty of positives and negatives from this past year and the COVID-19 pandemic made it tough for everyone.

“I’d say it was a little bit of both, it was definitely a weird year for everybody, just with COVID and who you were going to be playing against if one team gets shut down,” Kettner said. “For the most part, I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied with the season, but it was just great to get the learning experience going into next year.”

While COVID definitely made things difficult for everyone, Kettner was able to make it work, even with some changes to the offseason plan.

“We did, but we weren’t really allowed to do team stuff, so I actually moved out here last summer,” Kettner said. “I did individual workouts with the coach but it was very restricted. The coaches couldn’t touch the ball, we had to rebound for ourselves and we had to wear masks while working out.

Kettner goes up for a shot against Upper Iowa in a game at USF this past season.

“It was kind of scary for a while, because I redshirted last season and then we were wondering if we were going to be able to play this season,” Kettner said. “I was just thankful I could get in the gym when I did and I was just super thankful we got to play games this year.”

After he was thrown into the fire, he said he struggled sometimes. But during the season, he earned more and more playing time and he showed improvement.

“It was a lot of learning right away and I was making a lot of freshman mistakes,” Kettner said. “I just accepted my role and I realized I needed to gain the coaches’ trust. Eventually we had some injuries and stuff like that and I was able to fill in at a couple of different spots.”

While at USF, Kettner faced his former high school teammate Dunwa Omot, who plays at Southwest Minnesota State University. Other area players on SMSU’s roster include New Ulm Cathedral graduates Jon Zinniel and Alex Hillesheim. Isaac Fink, a Springfield graduate, plays at Augustana, another NSIC school. He looks forward to facing those guys down the road at USF.

“It was really fun, definitely not something that happens around our area very often,” Kettner said. “I think it just speaks volumes how good the Tomahawk Conference is and what we’re capable of. It’s really fun talking to those guys before the games after playing against them in high school and playing with Dunwa, now I’m playing against him.”

Kettner goes up for a shot against Upper Iowa in a game at USF this past season.

Next year, Kettner has the potential to be a starter at USF. But he knows the job won’t be handed to him and he knows that he has a lot to work on this summer. He’s already working on getting better and that includes every detail of the game.

“I think this summer is going to be huge for me,” he said. “Continuing to put on weight and I have a much larger role on the team with guys leaving. One thing I want to focus on is getting more consistency in my jump shot. I didn’t shoot it great from the floor this year, so it’s just getting reps in and continuing to get stronger.”

All Photos courtesy of Jurgens Photography

University of Sioux Falls guard and Minnesota Valley Lutheran graduate Jake Kettner completed his first season at USF. He averaged 5.5 points and started three games for the Cougars.

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