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Senior-heavy Kernels volleyball ready for season

Mitchell's Chelsea Brewster gets a kill inside the block attempt of Harrisburg's Avery Thorson (9) during a match on Oct. 17, 2017 at Mitchell High School. (Matt Gade / Republic)

There are senior-laden teams.

Then there’s the Mitchell High School volleyball team.

The Kernels have a whopping 11 seniors, which is the most in head coach Deb Thill’s 29-year tenure with the team. Mitchell is No. 5 in the preseason South Dakota Media Prep Volleyball Poll.

“Obviously, we have a ton of experience back,” Thill said. “We return all of our starters and role players that we had a year ago and they are a year older and a year wiser. Experience is going to lead to a lot of our success.”

The group includes Bridget Thill, Mandy Schmidt, Lesley Vandrongelen, Brooke Flemmer, Mackenzie Miller, Cassie Hohrman, Chelsea Brewster, Carly Haring, Maggie Kattner, Payton Morgan and Sage Jorgensen. Thill has coached the group since fifth grade club volleyball and it features dynamic players at all positions.

“We’ve got a very, very multi-talented group,” Thill said. “Because they learned every position when they were young and so they worked hard and it shows now that they are older.”

It’s led to wins on the court, as well. The Kernels are coming off a 21-6 campaign and a seventh-place finish at the Class AA state tournament.

Despite making its first trip to state since 2012, seventh place wasn’t what Mitchell had in mind.

“I think that’s fueled them a little bit,” Thill said. “Obviously, we know that we are going to be a good team, but there are teams out there like Rapid City Stevens and Sioux Falls Washington and Watertown, who bring back everybody from a year ago as well. It’s going to come down to who does the little things right. Who passes the best and who serves the hardest, is what it is going to come down to.”

The Kernels once again hang their hat on offense this year. Mitchell returns its top three hitters in Miller, Haring and Brewster. Miller was first-team all-state for the second straight season, while Brewster landed on the second team.

“The strength of this team is our offense,” Thill said. “We’ve got some power hitters. We’ve got a great setter. We’ve got kids that can pass the ball to our setter so that we can run a lot of different plays, a lot of different options for our hitters. That will be our strength.”

Miller suffered a knee injury during basketball season and her status to start the season is to be determined. She had surgery on March 27 and Thill didn’t want to speculate when she might return.

“We are hoping to get her back as soon as possible,” Thill said.

Orchestrating the offense is Schmidt, who is already the school’s all-time leading setter with 2,105 assists and her coach expects more of the same.

“She’s an extremely talented setter,” Thill said. “She’s improved tremendously. I think people are going to be excited when they watch her play because she’s really going to do some good things for us this year.”

Bridget Hill returns at the libero position and Vandrongelen played defensive specialist for the Kernels.

Mitchell opens the season on Aug. 25 at the Huron Invitational against Douglas, No. 3 Sioux Falls O’Gorman, Brandon Valley and Brookings.

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