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Kernel boys turn page to new season

Mitchell's Vincent Michael (34) drives around a pair of Sioux Falls O'Gorman defenders during a game in the Mike Miller Classic Dec. 29, 2016 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Finally, a chance to turn the page.

Following a winless campaign a year ago, the Mitchell High School boys basketball team is ready to start a new chapter. And with a new season brings a new head coach.

Head coach Todd Neuendorf said the Kernels' intensity has been good thus far during early season practice.

"We've had some 6 a.m. practices and everyone has been in the gym ready to go at 5:55," Neuendorf said, adding Mitchell had 47 kids try out for basketball this season. "They're eager to learn and they're like sponges right now. That energy and being ready to play, that's been a nice surprise."

Mitchell, which went 0-21 last year, opens the season Saturday and plays rival Huron in a 7 p.m. tip at Huron Arena.

There's a lot for the Kernels to learn under Neuendorf, who comes to Mitchell after coaching for a decade at Aberdeen Roncalli. He replaces Erik Skoglund.

There's a whole offensive and defensive playbook to be learned, and Neuendorf said his team is "behind the 8-ball getting used to a new system."

"In most other places, kids are coming in and there's already been a program in place, so you can pick up practice in stride," Neuendorf said. "Everything we put in, it's brand new. We're taking a lot of time installing our defense and our offense probably isn't where we want it to be right now. You're going to watch this team get better as the year goes on."

Carter Cavanaugh, one of seven seniors for the Kernels, said the team has worked on being a cohesive unit on both offense and defense. On offense, that includes cutting down on the amount of dribbling and one-on-one plays. On defense, it means communicating and focusing on the basics.

"We're going to be a lot more fundamentally sound," he said. "That's the most important thing for us."

Senior Jordon Johnson said the defense will be the focus, making sure Mitchell is in the right position and playing quick and smart.

"We know we're capable of a lot more than what we showed last year," he said. "We have a good group this season and we're working hard."

Neuendorf cited Cavanaugh, Johnson, Baley Miller and Vincent Michael as seniors who are expected to be key players. Juniors Kiel Nelson, Derek Factor and Kaden Soukup, along with sophomore Carter Jacobsen, are expected to contributors.

"Every drill we're getting better and we're just pushing ourselves to be as good as we can," Miller said. "We know that's where we can improve."

Mitchell had an intrasquad "Meet the Kernels" scrimmage Saturday at the MHS gym, getting a test run on the playing court for the first time. Neuendorf said he split the teams evenly to get an up-close look at possible position battles while also getting out a few kinks ahead of the first game.

The Kernels will be on the road for the first four games of the season. They make the Rapid City trip to Central and Stevens Dec. 15-16 and visit Brookings on Dec. 19 before the home opener Dec. 21 against Watertown at the Corn Palace.

Neuendorf said Aberdeen Central — which was the state runner-up a year ago — is the favorite in the Eastern South Dakota Conference, while mentioning Huron, Brandon Valley and Watertown as the other possible contenders. But Neuendorf made it clear he's not worried about the standings early in the season.

"We're really working to make sure we've got our ducks in a row," he said. "Before we work on anyone else, we have to worry about ourselves."

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