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Kernel volleyball upped play in 2017

Mitchell's Brooke Flemmer, left, and Carly Haring, right, jump to block at the net during the Class AA state volleyball seventh-place match Saturday against Sioux Falls O'Gorman at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City. Also pictured for Mitchell is Mandy Schmidt, center. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

Over the course of 27 matches, there was plenty to like for the 2017 Mitchell High School volleyball team.

Mitchell was ranked No. 1 for a period in the state's coaches poll, gained the No. 2-seed in the state tournament and above all, the Kernels achieved their preseason goal of making the state tournament for first time since 2012.

Even though the Kernels (21-6) had a few struggles at the Class AA state tournament and finished seventh, the successes outweigh the negatives, coach Deb Thill said.

"We just had a lot of really great things happen for our team this season," Thill said. "It was a great group to be around all season and I'm guessing this group will miss playing together for a bit while they're doing their next sport or activity because it was a fun group."

Thill specifically cited defensive back-row specialists Lesley VanDrongelen and Bridget Thill, hitters Sage Jorgensen, Brooke Flemmer and Payton Morgan and serving specialist Maggie Kattner, as players who did their jobs well without much fanfare.

"All of them, they're just hard-working kids," she said. "Everyone had a job. We knew that kids were going to have to come in and do their jobs."

As a team, Mitchell improved offensively, averaging 12.3 kills per set, compared to 11.5 during the 2016 season and the Kernels hit .272 as a team, up from .222 the year before. The Kernels were also slightly better at serving aces, averaging 2.2 aces per set, up from 1.9 the season before.

The challenge Mitchell faced throughout the season was blocking at the net, where the Kernels were a bit undersized. The Kernels had 127 total blocks, 35 fewer blocks than the 2016 season.

"Obviously, offense was the best part of our game and even with those other areas need to improve," Thill said. "We know our ball control needs to be a bit better. Our blocking needs to be a bit better."

The season included individual accomplishments as well, with Mackenzie Miller setting the single-season school kills record with 459 and Mandy Schmidt breaking career set assist record, now with 2,110 assists. Both were all-Eastern South Dakota Conference picks, and Chelsea Brewster was an all-ESD honorable mention pick, while Brewster earned Class AA all-tournament honors at the state tournament earlier in the month. (The Class AA all-state teams will be announced Dec. 8.)

With Alexis Elfstrand as the only senior on the team and 11 juniors expected to return for next year, there will be expectations for 2018. Thill said she knows her team will put in the work to improve ahead of next August.

"We can do some higher-level things yet with this team," Thill said. "We can raise our game."

Mitchell (21-7) volleyball season box score

Kills: Mackenzie Miller 459, Chelsea Brewster 311, Carly Haring 218, Sage Jorgensen 81, Brooke Flemmer 34, Payton Morgan 27, Mandy Schmidt 22, Bridget Thill 5, Lesley VanDrongelen 1. Service aces: Miller 39, Jorgensen 37, Flemmer 36, Brewster 32, Schmidt 26, Maggie Kattner 19, Thill 14, Cassie Hohrman 1, VanDrongelen 1. Total blocks: Haring 88, Brewster 42, Miller 41, Schmidt 16, Jorgensen 16, Flemmer 15, Morgan 10. Digs: Miller 362, Brewster 325, Thill 288, Schmidt 214, VanDrongelen 131, Flemmer 115, Jorgensen 111, Haring 63, Morgan 38, Kattner 19. Assists: Schmidt 944, Flemmer 24, Morgan 17, Miller 15, Brewster 13, Haring 10, Thill 9, VanDrongelen 6, Jorgensen 3, Kattner 2.