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Kernel wrestling features plenty of experience

Mitchell's Logan Sparks competes during the Class A state wrestling tournament last year at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls. (Eric Mayer / Republic)

There's plenty of experience back in the Mitchell High School wrestling room.

Mitchell, which qualified 12 wrestlers for last year's state tournament, returns nine state qualifiers, including all four state placers—Carson Max (third), Briggs Havlik (sixth), Kyle Foote (eighth) and Logan Sparks (eighth).

"We're excited about what we have as possibilities throughout the year," MHS head coach Travis Carpenter said. "Just like always, we're not going to be where we want to be at the beginning of the year. You're never as good as you want to be at the start."

With a roster of 26 wrestlers, featuring three seniors and 13 juniors, Carpenter said he'll have some flexibility to move kids in and out of the varsity lineup as well as at different weight classes.

"We have a good group of kids," Carpenter said. "They key right now is mat time. We need to get on the mat and figure out where we're at so we can get better and work on those things."

The Kernels will open their season on Saturday at the Watertown Tournament in Watertown.

Havlik, who has qualified for the state tournament in each of the past four seasons, said conditioning is important early in the season. He added Mitchell's experienced grapplers will help the team improve all season.

"We want to get on the podium as a team," Havlik said. "We don't have to start at the basics. We can start with where we finished last year and get better."

Kyler Bauder, Cole Gehrke, Sutton Carpenter, Max Schoenfelder and Mitch Schladweiler each reached the state tournament last year. Both Havlik and Carpenter said the goal is not only reach the state tournament, but also place.

"You look for big things out of those guys," Carpenter said his returning state placers. "But anyone who has been in the state meet, they got that feel of what it's like to be there. That motivates kids."

Havlik added he's hoping to cap his senior season with a strong finish.

"I'm looking to go all out this year," Havlik said. "My main goal is to get into the championship match."

Across the state, Pierre, which has won five of the last six Class A state titles, joins Rapid City Stevens and Aberdeen Central as favorites. The Kernels will host duals against Aberdeen Central (Dec. 14), Huron (Dec. 21) and Brookings (Jan. 16) as well as the Jerry Opbroek Invite on Jan. 13.

"The kids in the room are working hard and there isn't a day I have to get after them to work hard," Carpenter said. "They are excited for the season to see what we can accomplish."