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For the past three seasons, the Mitchell High School football team had the same starting quarterback—Kanin Nelson. Nelson, now a third-string quarterback as a freshman at South Dakota State University, is long gone and the Kernels will have a new signal-caller heading into the 2016 season—Chris Wahlen. Wahlen served as Nelson's backup the past two seasons and gained varsity experience with the Kernels last year. The senior quarterback played in four games, completing 2-of-3 passes for 29 yards and one touchdown.
WINNER—In the storied history of Winner High School football, no team has ever won back-to-back state championships. After cruising through Class 11B on the way to a state title in 2015, the Winner Warriors have hopes of repeating and making some school history in the process. Winner, which outscored its opponents 594-26 in 12 games last year, lost only six seniors from the team and return 39 letterwinners, as well as nine starters on offense and eight starters on defense. All of it equates to bad news for the rest of Class 11B.
Fasten your seatbelts, Mitchell High School football fans. The start of the 2016 season is only a few days away and the race to the top of Class 11AA appears to be extremely close. Both the South Dakota Sportswriters Association football poll and an Eastern South Dakota football coaches poll, conducted by The Daily Republic, have slim margins separating the top teams.
There's a pretty big difference between first place and second place. Just ask the Alexandria Angels. After winning its first-ever state title in 2013, Alexandria looked prime to continue to add to its state championship count in 2014 and 2015. The Angels made the Class B title game both times, but came up short to Wynot, Nebraska (8-2) in 2014 and the Parkston Mudcats (4-3) in 2015.
The Mitchell Kernels know defense wins championships. Through the team's first handful of practices, an emphasis on keeping opposing teams off the scoreboard was on the mind of both players and coaches. Mitchell's defense allowed 281 points in 11 games last year, for an average of 25.5 points per game. On the flip side, the Kernel offense averaged 32.1 points per game, allowing the team to have its first winning season since 2011 and reach the Class 11AA semifinals.
Tyson Gau isn't a stranger to the Class B state amateur baseball championship game. The Alexandria native's first-ever start in amateur baseball was in the 2010 title game as a Legion pick-up player for the Dimock-Emery Raptors. Gau earned the win, picking up two strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings pitched. Six years later, Gau was back on the mound in the Class B championship game as a seasoned veteran for the Alexandria Angels.
The Mitchell High School boys golf team will hit the links for the first tournament today in Brandon and head coach Mark Horan said he's "anxious" to see the team compete. "We're looking pretty good after our first full week of practice," Horan said. "In all my years coaching, I don't think I've ever had more players play all summer long." Mitchell placed 10th at the Class AA state meet last year and returns three players from that team.
The Mitchell High School boys soccer team wants to play at a high rate of speed this season. Heading into its first game of the season—4 p.m. today at Brookings—Mitchell has been busy working to improve its speed and decision-making on the ball. "We need to play our game and with the speed of play that we want to," MHS head coach Ken Novak said. "It's going to be key for us to move the ball through midfield quickly." In preparation for the season, the boys soccer team has done three-a-day practices starting on Aug. 1.
There was no shortage of energy at the Mitchell High School football team's first practice on Thursday. Like every team across the state, the Kernels laced up the cleats and put on the pads for the first time this season as Thursday, was the designated start date, set by the South Dakota High School Activities Association, for organized high school football practices.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Faces at the State Amateur Baseball Tournament is a regular series, profiling one contributor, worker, player, manager or fan a day during the duration of the Class B state tournament. There's been one voice echoing around the Class B state amateur baseball tournament at Cadwell Park for the past three years. Joe Van Goor, the radio voice for University of South football and men's basketball teams, started announcing the state amateur tournament in 2014 and is finishing up his third year announcing the annual year-end tournament.