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Kernels volleyball starts districts against ESD rival Huron

It’s a brand new season for the Mitchell Kernel volleyball team and according to head Coach Deb Thill, her team plans to capitalize on it.

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Tuesday at 7 p.m., fourth-seeded Mitchell begins postseason play with its first game of the District 3AA volleyball tournament against top-seeded Huron.

“We have just as much of a chance to win the district tournament as anyone else,” Thill said. “Our district has always been that way anyone in our district could get first or fourth.”

Mitchell (9-11, 7-9 ESD) split its two games with Huron this season. The Kernels lost the first matchup against Huron (16-3, 14-2 ESD) in Mitchell, but bounced back and beat the Tigers at Huron Arena on Oct. 26.

That night the Kernels recorded a season-low five unforced errors. Thill believes her team can play even better than it did that night.

If the Kernels are to knock off Huron, which won the Eastern South Dakota Conference, they will need big games from outside hitters Taylin Alm and Sidney Neugebauer and setter Emma Schmidt.

Alm, who committed to play Division I volleyball at Pepperdine next year, leads Mitchell in aces and kills with 57 and 425, respectively.

The senior is just five kills away from breaking her single-season kill mark of 429, which she set last season.

Neugebauer leads the Kernels in digs with 314. She also has 68 kills and 21 aces.

Schmidt, who Thill says is her team’s catalyst, has a team-leading 638 assists for Mitchell. She also has 210 digs, 32 aces and 78 kills.

“We are pretty confident that we can win our first round of districts,” Thill said. “We know we beat them not too long ago, but we know we also can play better. We are also working on some new things to put in because the teams we are playing know us very well.”

The Kernels will meet either Aberdeen Central or Pierre in the second round of the double-elimination tournament.

Mitchell was swept by both teams, which are also members of the ESD.

Aberdeen Central (16-4) comes into the tournament as the second seed, while Pierre (9-11) is the third seed.

“Everybody knows who your big hitters are and everyone knows what your tendencies are at this point in the season,” Thill said. “If we are going to win in the postseason, we need to be in system as much as possible and get the ball to Emma. We have to give her good passes so that she has different options to set up different people.”

If the Kernels win out during the tournament, they automatically qualify for the Class AA state tournament.

If Mitchell wins one game and loses another, it will then play in a regional contest to decide which team makes the tournament.

Should the Kernels lose two games at any point before the state tournament, their season comes to an end.