By Dan Merritt, Advocate reporter
He got off the team-chartered airplane in Sioux Falls late last week knowing that the ride was over.
Winner native Zach Horstman’s competitive sports playing days for a school are over.
“I’ve always been in a sport ever since, shoot, probably fifth grade.
“It seems like there was always that one more game.
“But after that last game (South Dakota State University vs Vanderbilt, Fri., March 20) you come back to Brookings and you realize you don’t get another one,” Horstman said.
He’s carrying on with his education at SDSU, planning to graduate in 2016 as a phys ed teacher with a health education minor.
The Vanderbilt contest was in Nashville, Tenn., in a second round game of the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).
South Dakota State had advanced there having defeated Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colo. on Wed., March 18.
The win over Colorado State was SDSU’s first for the men’s team in Division 1 basketball post-season play. An historic milestone for that team.
There have been others and Horstman has experienced them the past four seasons playing for the SDSU Jackrabbits since he graduated from Winner High School in 2011.
When reached by phone Sun., March 22, Horstman applauded his fellow Warriors on the boys basketball team he played for in high school.
He lauded the current WHS boys basketball team for getting into the evening session of the State A tournament and coming away with third place. Historic landmarks for the boys basketball program at Winner.
“It’s good for them and good for the community,” Hortsman stated. “They had a great year. I’m happy for them.”
He said he and former Winner athlete Carson Covey, who is also at SDSU, had watched the boys team on-line during the season.
“Whenever we got time, we’d tune-in to see how they were doing. We watched quite a few of their games.”
He expressed admiration for the leadership and direction provided by first-year coach Brett Gardner, a Winner native.
“I grew-up watching him play.”
He said he was impressed by the kind of coach Gardner is.
“He brings a lot of energy to that team. He’s always excited.
“I never got to watch him live, that is in person. But I watched him on the internet and he looks like he’d be a great coach to play for.
“And just knowing him, personally, I know he loves basketball. He’s going to be a really good coach for a really long time.
“I’m not surprised at all that Winner did so well at the state tournament.”
Horstman’s schooling is directed towards phys ed teaching, but he’d like to be a basketball coach as well, he noted.
He has something to contribute to teams that he some day may be in charge of, he added. He’s had years of playing experience and coaching guidance through a variety of levels of competition from grade school through Division 1 college.
But those years are now over. It’s strange to think that spring weight-training and drills, which get underway soon, for the SDSU men’s basketball program won’t include him, Horstman commented.
“I’ll have to find something to do to stay in shape, that’s for sure. Keep lifting and keep workin’ out, I suppose.”
During Horstman fours years at SDSU, the men’s team went to the “Big Dance” NCAA post-season tournament twice, the CBI (College Basketball Invitational), and the NIT.
He had as a teammate for two seasons Nate Wolters who went on to play professional basketball.
Horstman was a starter for SDSU the last three games of the season in spring 2014 and the first half of the winter season of 2014-15. But an ankle injury sidelined him and when healed, he returned to the role of coming into games off the bench.
“He’s such an unselfish guy,” said SDSU coach Scott Nagy, speaking about Horstman and his now completed years playing for the Jackrabbits.
“He’s done what we’ve asked him to do and it’s very difficult for me to say good-bye to him.
“I love him; he’s such a tremendous teammate.”
In high school, Horstman played for long-time, legendary Winner High School coach Jim Drake.
His parents are Brad and Johnyne Horstman, Winner. Grandparents, also of Winner, include Barry and Carol Horstman and Carroll and Janet Bruun.
He has a sister, Kylie, who is a junior at WHS and who is involved in sports just like her big brother was in high school.
Zach Horstman said his family has seen a huge majority of his games from grade school days, through high school, and into college. He’s extremely grateful for that.
“I’ve had great support from them my whole career. I have to thank my parents and the rest of my family and all my friends for the support.”
Winner didn’t forget him when he traveled northeast to play at Brookings beyond high school, he noted.
“I’d get texts and e-mails all time, saying ‘Good luck, with this,’ or ‘I’ve been watching you here.’
Just to have that was a huge blessing. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
He summed-up his school years in sports: basketball in college and in high school there were football, baseball, and track as well.
“I’ve been fortunate to play on a lot of championship level teams throughout my playing career.
It’s been a great overall ride.”