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Mitchell volleyball team rallies to defeat Harrisburg in five set thriller

Mitchell's Shelly Iburg, left, and Taylin Alm, right, go up for a block during an ESD contest Saturday at Mitchell High School. (Aaron Saunders/Republic)1 / 2
Mitchell middle hitter Shelly Iburg tips the ball over the net past Harrisburg middle hitter Danni Honner during an ESD contest Saturday at Mitchell High School. (Aaron Saunders/Republic)2 / 2

Down 9-5 in the 5th set of an Eastern South Dakota Conference game against the Harrisburg Tigers, the Mitchell volleyball team didn’t panic.

The senior laden Kernel squad buckled down, went on a 5-2 run which brought them to within one point of Harrisburg and finished off the Tigers 16-14 to win in five sets (15-25, 21-25, 25-17, 25-14, 16-14) Saturday.

“I thought we could come back because anything is possible,” Mitchell senior outside hitter Taylin Alm said. “It’s very important to have senior leaders out there because we make sure no one gets down on themselves. We would like to win games in three sets, but we are pretty good at winning in five because we can handle the pressure well.”

Alm’s presence was felt on the court Saturday night in the Mitchell High School gymnasium. The senior Pepperdine commit recorded 29 kills and 10 digs. Alm’s 29 kills left her six points shy of tying the Mitchell High School single-game kill mark. The record is currently 35 and is held by Chelsey (Miller) Dockter.

Alm and the Kernels also got help from senior setter Emma Schmidt, senior defensive specialist/outside hitter Sidney Neugebauer, junior middle Rachel Bucholz and senior middle hitter Shelly Iburg.

Schmidt had 46 assists, four kills, three aces and 15 digs; Neugebauer had 25 digs, Bucholz recorded 10 kills, while Iburg had five aces and four kills.

Senior defensive specialist Taylor Sebert also had 15 digs and senior outside hitter Allison Murphy recorded six kills.

Mitchell (3-1, 1-1 ESD) came out cold, dropping the first two sets to Harrisburg. Mitchell coach Deb Thill said her teams serve/receive was not on par in the first two sets, leading to the slow start.

“The game is won and lost in serve/receive and the first two sets Harrisburg obviously won that part of the game,” Thill said. “They were in system a lot so they could use their weapons. They have a really athletic team. We also missed between 12 and 13 serves in those first two sets and our passing wasn’t very stellar.”

The Tigers (1-2) also controlled the net in those first two sets, using a variety of attacks and defenses to mind the net. Junior middle hitter Danni Honner, senior outside hitter Hailey Axtell and junior outside hitter Haley Bruggeman were responsible for Mitchell’s early woes at the net. Honner finished with 13 kills, three blocks and three aces, while Axtell and Bruggeman each had six kills and three aces.\

“I have very athletic kids, they have a lot of desire to win and they play hard,” Harrisburg coach Ronette Costain said. “We don’t have one dominant hitter on our team, all five of them can hit. We knew offensively we had to bring it on every swing, we just have to learn to get past those mental battles.”

This is Harrisburg’s first year in the ESD and at the Class AA level. The Tigers previously competed in Class A.

Mitchell finally woke up following the second set, putting together fluid offense, while seemingly getting to every ball. Thill said she was proud of the effort her girls gave Saturday.

“Sometimes you have to go through adversity to be tough and that is what we have been through,” Thill said. “We have great seniors on our team that want to work hard, want to be successful and they make it happen.”

The Kernels hit the court again against Aberdeen Central Tuesday in Aberdeen. Aberdeen Central was the consolation champion at the 2012 Class AA volleyball state tournament, while Mitchell finished seventh.