Class AA state tourney more than just top three teams, coaches say
His team is the defending state champion, but Wes Morgan is calling his Kernels the underdogs headed into this weekend's Class AA state girls' basketball tournament.
Mitchell, the third seed with a 20-3 record, starts its title defense Thursday in a first-round game against Rapid City Central in Rapid City at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Tipoff is scheduled for at 8:45 p.m. Central time.
The top two seeds at the state tournament are the only teams that have beaten Mitchell this season. Aberdeen Central is the top seed and Sioux Falls Washington is No. 2. If Mitchell beats Rapid City Central Thursday, there's a chance the Kernels could see both Washington and Aberdeen en route to their title defense.
"We want our chances again," Morgan said. "If we can get through the first night and play Washington, and get through that night and play Aberdeen, that'd be great. But there's not an easy road to the end."
The Kernels suffered their first loss of the year on Jan. 4, falling 59-49 to Washington in Sioux Falls. The next day, Mitchell had to go on the road to play Aberdeen, where the Kernels lost 63-55.
After the back-to-back losses, the Kernels went on a 14-game win streak before losing o Aberdeen in the District 3AA championship. Morgan said Aberdeen is the favorite this weekend, and Washington's next in line.
Washington coach Nate Malchow agreed Aberdeen is the team to beat with its 20-1 record. The only loss Aberdeen was dealt was from Mitchell, a 57-35 blowout at the Corn Palace. Washington (20-2) plays Sioux Falls O'Gorman in the first round, while Aberdeen plays Sturgis.
"You have several teams that are capable of winning it," said Malchow, whose team lost to Mitchell in last year's state title game. "And those people who think it's just the top three teams in the title hunt are kidding themselves. This tournament usually has a lot of drama."
Despite being named the favorite, Aberdeen coach Dawn Seiler shook off any notion that her team has any advantages.
After the three 20-win teams, Sioux Falls Roosevelt is the fourth seed with a 16-6 record and Sioux Falls Lincoln, Rapid City Central and O'Gorman each have 14 wins.
"Teams are changing now and playing their best basketball," Seiler said. "You look at records and say there might be three teams that are ahead of everyone else. But I think there is a lot more balance than those records indicate."
Mitchell seemed to be playing its best basketball during its long win streak, but then lost a two-point game in Aberdeen in the second game of the playoffs. That forced the Kernels to play Rapid City Stevens in a Region 2AA elimination game, where they won and qualified for their third straight state tournament.
Morgan said his team's focus has to be on Rapid City Central, not Washington or Aberdeen, which both qualified for state by winning their district tournament. The Kernels defeated Rapid City Central 77-38 on Dec. 14 in Rapid City.
"They have the home court," Morgan said, referring to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, which is across the street from Central High School. "They're going to have the home-crowd advantage and going to be geared up for it. If we don't have our head on straight and ready to play, something bad could happen to us."
Headed into the state tournament, Kernels junior guard Macy Miller is leading the team in scoring at 19.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Senior forward Kerri Young averages 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
Miller, a first-team all-state player, is ready for rematches against Washington and Aberdeen, if the team is given the opportunity. She said the Kernels came out flat with little energy in all three losses this year.
"It would be good to get some revenge," she said.
Class AA first-round pairings
*All times are Central time and games are at the Rapid City Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
- No. 1 Aberdeen vs. No. 8 Sturgis, 1 p.m.
- No. 4 Sioux Falls Roosevelt vs. No. 5 Sioux Falls Lincoln, 2:45 p.m.
- No. 2 Sioux Falls Washington vs. Sioux Falls O'Gorman, 7 p.m.
- No. 3 Mitchell vs. Rapid City Central, 8:45 p.m.