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Kernel Camp brings 69 teams to Mitchell

(Matt Bunke/Republic) Mitchell's Charlee Nelson attempts to block the shot of a Lincoln (Neb.) Northeast High School player on Wednesday during Mitchell's team camp at the high school. The camp, which was spread over five locations in Mitchell, attracted 69 teams from South Dakota and Nebraska.

If there was an open gym anywhere in Mitchell this week, chances are it has been overrun by high school volleyball players.

Sixty-nine teams from South Dakota and Nebraska are in town this week for Mitchell High School's annual Kernel Klassic Team Camp of Champs, a camp that is spread between both gyms at the high school, Mitchell Christian School, the Armory, Mitchell Middle School and Dakota Wesleyan University.

The team camp -- one of the largest of its kind -- began Wednesday and concludes today, and followed an individual camp that ran Monday and Tuesday and attracted 92 participants.

"It takes a lot of organization," Mitchell coach Deb Thill said, adding that Dianne Way handles much of the scheduling. "We have sponsors and we have two hotels where the teams stay. Just trying to coordinate all those kinds of things is a lot of work."

Thill was quick to add, however, that the end result is well worth the time spent putting it all together.

"Obviously, I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it," she said. "I just want to keep promoting the sport of volleyball. This is the largest team camp that you'll find. We like to do a good job, we like to treat people right, and I think that's why we keep having so many people."

While there are 69 teams at the camp this year, that doesn't actually mean there are 69 different schools. There are different divisions for different levels of play, meaning many schools bring their junior varsity and freshman teams as well. Mitchell had five teams in the camp and Aberdeen brought four. Even some of the smaller Class A and B schools brought two or three teams.

"We have some new teams this year, but we do have a lot of teams that come year after year," Thill said. "It's an opportunity for their seventh and eighth graders and freshmen to play, because we have a division for all teams. I think that's another reason it's so popular with coaches."

Coaches and high school teams weren't the only ones taking advantage of the camp. A number of college coaches also took the opportunity to watch so many athletes in one place.

But mostly, the camp is designed for the players to get a jump start on the season and for coaches to get a sneak peak at what they'll be working with this fall. Many teams, Mitchell included, lost a number of key players from last year, and camps like this one give the girls a chance to get more familiar playing with each other.

"We're about a month from starting our season," Thill said. "Teams are wanting to give kids an opportunity to play and see what they have. This is actually the first time we've been to a team camp this summer, and our varsity kids are going to two more after this.

"I don't care where you're from -- we're giving girls an opportunity to play, and that's why we do it."