MHS girls face WarriorsIf the Mitchell girls’ basketball team is anxious for tonight’s highly anticipated game that pairs the top-two rated teams in the state, none of the players are showing it.
If the Mitchell girls’ basketball team is anxious for tonight’s highly anticipated game that pairs the top-two rated teams in the state, none of the players are showing it.
“These girls just want to play,” said Kernels coach Wes Morgan, whose defending state champion and No. 1-ranked team travels to play No. 2 Sioux Falls Washington at 7:30 p.m. in Sioux Falls. “I don’t think they really care who they play. … They’re not preparing for this game any different than they have the last ones.”
Mitchell (5-0) hasn’t taken the court in a game setting since Dec. 18, a 43-point victory over Eastern South Dakota Conference rival Watertown. While all of Mitchell’s wins have been by more than 30 points this year, Morgan doesn’t foresee tonight’s matchup going that way.
When these teams played in March for the title, Mitchell edged Washington 56-54 in the Class AA state championship game in Brookings. It was a back-and-forth game that went down to the final possession in which Washington put up a potential game-tying shot that fell short.
Washington coach Nate Malchow, a two-time state champion with the Warriors, expects tonight’s game to have a playoff-type atmosphere.
“This is a rivalry game,” he said. “Say what you want that we’re in different conferences, but these kids know each other well. We played each other in the state tournament last year and everyone knows that was a close game and a great game. We have a nice little rivalry going with these guys right now.”
Malchow said Mitchell should be favored in the game, simply because the Kernels are the defending champions and haven’t been beaten this year.
But Washington is off to nearly as dominant of a start as the Kernels. The Warriors (6-0) have beaten their opponents by an average margin of 28 points per game.
Morgan, who’s scouted Washington once this season when the Warriors played Sioux Falls Lincoln, is expecting tonight’s game to go to the wire despite the way both teams have been playing so far this season, picking up lopsided victories.
“They’ve got kids that can do it all,” Morgan said. “They’ve got guards that can get it up the floor and posts that can get it inside. Every kid on the team can shoot the 3-pointer. If you take your eye off one kid, they’re going to hurt you. Chances are, it’s not going to be if they’re going to show up, it’s more of how hot are they going to be?”
If the Kernels happen to lose tonight, Morgan said it won’t be a detriment to his team’s hopes of repeating. Last year, the Kernels lost to Sioux Falls Lincoln in the fifth game of the regular season but then won 19 straight games en route to the title.
“It will just show us to keep working,” Morgan said. “Anything can happen.”
Malchow recognized Mitchell’s strong transition game and ability to get up and down the court. He said slowing down the Kernels’ offense will be a key in the game.
Leading the Kernels this season offensively are Kerri Young and Macy Miller, who Malchow called two of the best players in the state. Young is averaging a team-best 20 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, while Miller is at 14.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
But Malchow mentioned the Kernels’ strong ability to have role players step up in key situations, like last year’s state championship when guard Megan Farnham had nine points and seven rebounds and Kristin Sabers knocked down a key shot at the end of the game.
“Our half-court execution is going to be very big,” said Malchow, who has watched Mitchell on tape but not in a live game setting. “They’re a very good team, and we know that. You’ve got two teams that have a lot of good players and we’re looking forward to the matchup.”
Washington is led by junior guard Ellie Benson and senior forward Emma Hanson, both returning starters from last year. Hanson averages a team-high 9.5 points per game and Benson averages 7.4 points per game. The Warriors have six players averaging at least seven points per game, which may make it difficult for the Kernels to key on defensively on one or two players.
“It will be nice to be tested by an equal team and I think we’ll be tested to the max,” Morgan said.