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Kernels set out to win first gymnastics title since 2008

Mitchell sophomore Emily Prill performs a leap during her floor routine in a high school gymnastics meet earlier this season at Mitchell High School. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

The Kernels have one more challenge on the way to a perfect season.

Throughout the season, Mitchell High School’s gymnastics team has put together OK to dominant meets. But regardless of the performance, the Kernels have always pulled out the team victory.

Today, Mitchell looks for the one win to establish its season above the rest — a state championship. The top-seeded Kernels take the floor at noon with eight other Class AA and nine Class A teams at Aberdeen Central High School in Aberdeen. Both classes compete simultaneously and each class will crown a champion at the conclusion of the meet.

Despite an undefeated season to this point, Mitchell head coach Audra Rew said the pressure her gymnasts are feeling is self-imposed.

“They’ve wanted this and talked about it all summer,” Rew said, adding her team has looked solid in practice this week. “After last year, when some of the top teams lost some girls to graduation, we knew it was a definite possibility to be on top at the end of the season this year. The pressure is just them wanting it really bad, and that’s good pressure.”

The Kernels, which lost one of their state competitors to graduation, finished third behind Rapid City Central and Watertown in 2013. Mitchell junior Ellie Rew said the team has become stronger over the last year.

“We’ve definitely gained a bigger bond,” she said. “The way we’ve been practicing lately has helped us stay focused and we do everything together. We’re nonstop thinking about the possibility of winning state.

“We want to win.”

Other teams vying for the Class AA team title are Sioux Falls O’Gorman, which comes in with the second-best qualifying score, and defending champion Rapid City Central.

Mitchell’s eighth-year head coach said the Cobblers haven’t competed their full lineup at a meet this year and added the rest of the field — Yankton, Pierre, Aberdeen, Brookings, Watertown and Huron — will be in a “dead heat” for fourth.

The Kernels have known their rotation — floor exercise, vault, uneven bars, balance beam — for over a week, which Audra Rew said has been helpful in the team’s preparation for state.

“We’ve been doing that rotation for a week now,” said Rew, whose team competed that rotation in its final meet of the year Feb. 13 in Huron. “My biggest concern is I want them to come out loud and excited on floor, and I think we will.

“The rest of the meet is just coast through our events, hit them like we’ve been doing all year and get to beam and stay calm.”

Leading the way for the Kernels are sophomore Quinci Herll and juniors Rebecca Sadler and Ellie Rew. The gymnasts have consistently been Mitchell’s top three all-around competitors this season.

In the team competition, each team competes five gymnasts on each event and the top four scores count toward the team’s overall total. The Kernels rotate with the top seed in the Class A competition, Madison.

“Whenever you have top teams competing with each other, scores tend to escalate,” Audra Rew said. “The excitement sets it up to be a positive atmosphere.”

Individual qualifiers Mitchell has five gymnasts competing Saturday’s all-around individual competition, which begins at 9:30 a.m. in Aberdeen.

Herll, Sadler, Rew, sophomore Emily Prill and freshman Josie Dierks will represent the Kernels by doing all four events Saturday.

Herll heads into the individual competition with the top all-around score from the qualifying meets with a 37.9. Yet, Rapid City Central sisters Chelsey and Colette Christensen return as the top two finishers in the all-around for the last two years.

Seventh-grader Bailey Roden will compete on bars, while seventh-grader Maria Krall will compete on beam, floor and vault Saturday.

There will be 92 gymnasts competing in Class AA over the two-day state meet.

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