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Kernel gymnasts prepare for another big season

Mitchell's Maria Krall competes on the uneven bars during a 2016 meet at the MEGA Gymnastics Center. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Mitchell High School gymnastics team is pushing the bar this season.

The Kernels have succeeded with their own style of gymnastics — winning three of the last four state championships and finishing second in Class AA a year ago — working on sound, solid routines that they know they can hit and score.

But coach Audra Rew said her Kernel team — which numbers 22 gymnasts on the roster this year — will take a different approach this season. Rew said she will have her gymnasts adding a higher difficulty to their routines much earlier in the season.

"We've normally been a team that works on perfecting a routine, mainly because you don't want to be doing scary gymnastics," Rew said. "This year, I'd say we're going to probably push that line a bit more because we've got some kids capable of hitting some harder skills and we're going to be doing some harder, higher-scoring routines, while still being as safe as possible.

"We might be a little more up and down. We might be a little more inconsistent," Rew added.

The Kernels open the season today at Yankton, in a season-opening triangular with the Gazelles and Parkston/Ethan/Hanson at 6 p.m.

The goal for the Kernels is always a state championship and Rew said she expects defending champions Watertown to be very good again.

"To beat Watertown and the teams we expect to be up at the top again, we need to step up the difficulty," she said.

Part of the reasoning for the approach is the group of gymnasts Mitchell has this season, which mixes experience and youth. Bailey Roden is the Kernels' lone senior, and returns after an eighth-place finish individually at the Class AA state meet last season on vault.

Junior Maria Krall leads a group of four juniors as Mitchell's top all-around threat, after finishing sixth at state last year and she was a top-10 finisher in three of the four disciplines, including fourth on floor exercise. Eighth-grader Alyssa Hughes finished tied for seventh at state a year ago on uneven bars and Rew mentioned junior Kailee Henglefelt and eighth-grader Gracie Czmowski as key returners this season, while Kaylee Bauder and Kyra Gropper are a pair of seventh graders who could contribute this season on varsity.

"So far, I'm happy with where we're at," Rew said. "Last year, it was after Christmas when we were getting harder skills down and we're already getting that. We just want to improve that success rate."

Rew said the benefit of having a large team means there is a lot of early season competition, something the Kernels could use to find out their strongest gymnasts in each discipline and as a team.

"Everyone on this team will be looking to push the person who's ahead of them and that could be a really great thing," Rew said. "We might have some surprises and we're going to take the chance to analyze the first few meets and really understand what our strengths are and how we can take advantage of those."