HAGEN: Plenty of reasons to be interested in Mitchell basketballFor Mitchell High School basketball fans, the start of the season can’t come soon enough.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
For Mitchell High School basketball fans, the start of the season can’t come soon enough.
Both Mitchell teams are the preseason favorites in the Hansen-Anderson polls, giving people around town good reason to discuss the enormous amount of success the school could have come March.
With all of the talk surrounding the Mitchell basketball programs, the majority of the focus seems to be on the boys’ team. Maybe it’s deserved. But girls’ head coach Wes Morgan said he doesn’t mind being in the shadow of the boys’ program.
“Let people talk about the boys’ team, that’s great,” Morgan said before Wednesday afternoon’s practice. “We have to prove ourselves. We kind of got going last year and now hopefully we’ll take it a step farther. If we’re not the focal point, that’s OK with me.”
The boys’ team ended last year’s strong run with a seven-point loss to Sioux Falls O’Gorman in the Class AA state championship game. Coach Gary Munsen’s squad finished the season 21-4 and had only two starters move on to graduation.
Tucker Volesky, who averaged 21 points per game and was a first-team all-state selection last year, will be the team’s top-scoring threat again. Besides Volesky, there’s a barrage of seniors who will score plenty of points. Brian and Brady Maxwell, Matt Henriksen, Tate Martin and Jade Miller all were factors last year as juniors and will play roles again this season.
“We’ve got a lot of experience coming back, so we hope to get (to the state championship) again,” Munsen said.
Not only is there attention on the high amount of experience returning, but there also will be plenty of attention on the experienced coach who won’t be returning after the completion of the season. Munsen said this will be his final year coaching, which only notches expectations for this group of players higher. There’s no doubt that the kids on the team want to send South Dakota’s most recognizable high school coach out on top.
This is Munsen’s 47th year of coaching basketball and his 39th as head coach at Mitchell. He has won 651 games, nine state titles and five runner-ups. But in April, the longtime coach was reported to the South Dakota High School Activities Association for coaching a Mitchell player or players out of season at a Dakota Schoolers basketball tournament.
The boys’ team is serving a yearlong probationary period because of the violation, a mark that only draws more interest to this season. As of now, the boys’ team is still eligible for the postseason, but another infraction could result in further penalties.
There sure are plenty of reasons the boys’ team is going to be the top-level interest in town.
But there are reasons Morgan’s bunch should draw just as much attention.
The girls’ team won 13 of its final 17 games last year, including a win in the seventh-place game at the state tournament. Mitchell made its first state appearance last year since 2004 and finished 15-10 overall. The team showed flashes of brilliance at state, when the Kernels routed Yankton by 33 points in their final game of the year.
Although Mitchell graduated three senior starters from last year’s team, the majority of the point-scorers are returning.
Kerri Young, who verbally committed to South Dakota State in the offseason, averaged about 19 points per game last year as a sophomore and was a first-team all-state selection. Sophomore guard Macy Miller is out until January, recovering from knee surgery. Morgan classified both Young and Miller as Division I athletes, and he added it’s rare to see this high of talent coming through the program at the same time.
It’s also uncommon to have one school picked No. 1 in both the girls’ and boys’ preseason basketball polls.
Only twice has Mitchell claimed both the boys’ and girls’ state championship in the same year. In 1990 and in 1994, Mitchell High School was king of basketball in South Dakota.
This year, there undoubtedly will be success. The morning coffee-drinkers will have plenty to talk about after the Mitchell teams take the court each night, because both teams have the prospects to have 20-win seasons.
“We’ve been very, very successful in Mitchell for years, even before I came to Mitchell they were very successful,” Munsen said. “We’ve got the most state titles in the state of South Dakota and all that stuff. Sixteen boys (titles) and four girls so, we’re pretty proud of the boys and the girls have done well, too.”
There are plenty of reasons to watch the Kernel basketball teams this year, and it’s definitely not unreasonable to believe the town will become king of basketball again by the end of the season.