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Kernels, Warriors clash in first round at state

The Mitchell High School volleyball team, pictured here during a match against Huron, is headed to the Class AA state tournament Thursday in Rapid City. The Kernels' first-round match is against Sioux Falls Washington.(Brooke Cersosimo/Republic)

It will be a fresh opponent for Mitchell Thursday.

In the first round of the Class AA state high school volleyball tournament, Mitchell opens its quest for a state title against Sioux Falls Washington in a matchup that hasn't been played this year.

"We're pretty excited about the opportunity that we have," Mitchell coach Deb Thill said. "We think that we're ready for the state tournament and everybody is going to have to bring their best game for us to be successful in three matches in three days."

The Kernels (15-8) are the No. 5 seed heading into the tournament and the Warriors (21-5) sit one spot above them as the fourth seed. The teams square off in the second match of the day at 2:45 p.m. Central time at the Rapid City Central High School gymnasium. The tournament concludes Saturday evening.

The Kernels have finished in seventh and eighth places in the past two state tournaments.Senior Jenna Neugebauer said the team has been working hard in practice to achieve its goal of placing in the top four, which can only happen if Mitchell wins Thursday's matchup.

"We're all really focused and we've all set goals on how we can improve each other and get ready as a team," said Neugebauer, who has 90 kills and 258 digs on the season. "Our practices have been pretty intense this week."

The Kernels, who earned a berth to state with a straight-set win over Sturgis in a Region 2AA qualifier, have recorded 1,034 kills and 1,737 digs on the season. Junior middle hitter Taylin Alm leads the offensive attack with 374 kills on the season and is followed by senior Kerri Young with 230, junior Emma Schmidt has 149 and junior Sidney Neugebauer adds 128.

Defensively, senior Megan Farnham has led the Kernels with 522 digs on the season. Senior Kendra Morgan has 830 set assists for Mitchell.

Washington has two hitters with more than 300 kills this season in seniors Emma Hanson and Lexi Bordeaux. Hanson leads the team with 323, while Bordeaux has 319 kills on the year.

"We're going to have to be ready to counter act their hitters with some of the things that we do best," Thill said. "We've been working on defending the slide (hitters) because we feel that some of the teams that we're going to face are successful at that type of offense."

Sioux Falls O'Gorman enters as the No. 1 seed and plays No. 8 Watertown. With a victory against the Warriors, Mitchell would face the winner of O'Gorman-Watertown in the semifinal round Friday.

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.