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CERSOSIMO: VanDerMillen pleased with Tigers’ first week in ESD

After Harrisburg’s first week competing in the Eastern South Dakota Conference, athletic director Scott VanDerMillen couldn’t be more pleased.

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In the opening week of conference play, the Tiger football team had chances to knock off then-No. 3 Mitchell and the volleyball team went 1-1, defeating Huron in five sets and falling to the Kernels in five.

“It’s still early but the kids, teams and coaches have been competitive,” said VanDerMillen, who was at Mitchell before moving to Harrisburg in 2008. “The week was absolutely fantastic.”

Harrisburg was invited to join the conference in March of 2012, and VanDerMillen said Tiger athletics has been planning for the jump in competition.

“We’ve done everything we could in the last couple of years to play ESD schools in subvarsity schedules,” he said, adding Harrisburg played Huron in football several times. “Last year, our volleyball schedule started out with five Class AA matches. We went 0-5 but wanted to get our kids acclimated to that kind of competition.”

With the preparation going into playing at a higher level, Harrisburg displayed it isn’t a program to walk over — as some are viewed when playing at a new level.

An advantage of being a newcomer is many teams aren’t familiar with how Harrisburg plays, is coached, or its athletes.

“Harrisburg is kind of the unknown,” VanDerMillen said. “Not very many teams know what Harrisburg is like in terms of competition. Our coaches do a good job about telling our kids to control what they can. ... I’m proud of the way we have competed so far, and that’s what the ESD is all about.”

The Tigers had the Kernel volleyball team against the wall 2-0 on the road. On the gridiron against Mitchell, Harrisburg controlled most of the game. Mitchell squeezed out the win with the help of its special teams plays.

“Now people know Harrisburg is going to come and compete,” VanDerMillen said. “And the great thing about the conference is you’re going to see that team again in most sports.”

VanDerMillen said the whole experience of entering the conference has been exciting from developing new relationships with teams, communities and fans. He added Harrisburg’s programs also have an appreciation of how far the ESD teams travel.

“We’re used to traveling maybe an hour,” he said. “All of those things are challenges that come with moving up but are exciting in the same token.”

Last week, the former Kernel was able to come support his Tigers. He said he was pleased to see Mitchell’s new facilities and growth as an athletic program.

“I’m very proud of what Mitchell continues to do in terms of moving forward,” VanDerMillen said. “It’s great to see excitement in Mitchell, and it’s something we’re going to have to strive for as we continue in this conference.”

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.