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In the baseball and basketball hotbed that is Mitchell, there was no sports story in 2016 like Mitchell Kernel football. A state championship 45 years in the making was achieved with the Kernels' 11-1 season, capped with a triumphant victory Nov. 11 in the DakotaDome in Vermillion, a 41-6 win over Harrisburg. It was the Kernels success and all of the captivating stories around the team that made it The Daily Republic's top sports story in 2016. The honor is decided upon by the newspaper's sports staff at the end of each calendar year.
The Yankton Gazelles took Mitchell out of the game early Thursday night, and they did it three points at a time. Yankton didn't miss much from deep on the court—finishing 11-for-17 on 3-pointers—and the Kernels couldn't muster much offense in a 56-33 Eastern South Dakota Conference girls basketball victory for the Gazelles at the Corn Palace. Eight of those 3-pointers came in the first half, as Yankton scored 23 points in the first quarter and led 36-14 at halftime, spoiling Mitchell's home opener.
It might have been two days later and with half as many teams, but the Jill McCormick Invitational gymnastics meet went on Monday night. And Mitchell took care of business in its home gym. The Kernels won the team title at their signature home meet by more than six points, posting 141.650 points and finishing ahead of second-place Sioux Falls O'Gorman, which had 135.300 points.
It's mid-December and around this time each year, it's only natural to reflect on the year almost completed. At The Daily Republic, that means researching the year to date and slimming it down to the biggest stories of the year. The South Dakota Sportswriters Association's annual awards for the best teams and athletes are coming down the pike soon and our staff is putting together our annual list of the top 10 sports stories of 2016. (Keep an eye out for those stories between Dec. 27 and Dec. 31.)
PARKSTON — Blake Bietz has been a successful high school wrestler since the seventh grade. And a few years ago, he set his goals on becoming a college wrestler. "In my sophomore year, everyone was talking around Parkston, saying 'I think you can do it,' Bietz recalled. "I started getting that in my head and my junior year came around and coaches started talking to me and that really sparked my interest. I wanted to go and do it."
The Kernel-to-Tiger pipeline continued on Wednesday, this time with another talented offensive lineman. Mitchell High School senior offensive lineman Alex Klingaman committed to play football at Dakota Wesleyan University on Wednesday. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Klingaman played center for the Kernels during their 11-1 Class 11AA championship season this past fall. He told The Daily Republic Wednesday that he was impressed by Tigers coach Ross Cimpl's program and his approach to football.
PARKSTON — Three-time state champion and Parkston High School wrestler Blake Bietz intends to wrestle at South Dakota State University, the school announced Tuesday. Bietz, a two-time Daily Republic wrestler of the year, was 45-1 a year ago and won the Class B 152-pound state championship, with 25 of those victories coming via pinfall. Bietz won state championships at 113 pounds as a eighth-grader with a 47-3 record in 2013 and 145 pounds as a sophomore in 2015 with a 48-6 record. He was third as a seventh-grader (106 pounds) and as a freshman (132 pounds).
SIOUX FALLS—Ninety-six-year-old Harold Thune's basketball story finally came full circle. From his time in Murdo to the University of Minnesota and back to South Dakota, Thune was found in the Gophers locker room again for the first time in 75 years. The opportunity was possible when the Gophers honored him during their game at the Sanford Pentagon last weekend when Minnesota played Vanderbilt.
The Mitchell Marlins boys hockey team enters a new season in 2016-17 with a goal of playing a faster and more aggressive style of hockey. The team is under new leadership this season, with Cody Denne transitioning over from the girls varsity to the boys head coach role, replacing Chris Tronnes. "It's always been my dream to coach the boys varsity, so this is exciting for me," Denne said. The team has two large offensive holes to fill after Jacob Thill graduated and Spencer Neugebauer decided not to play this season.
With its win on Saturday to get past a pesky Villanova team, the South Dakota State University football team is now in unchartered territory. They're in the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. And for the first time in the team's six trips to the playoffs since 2009, SDSU is now something they haven't been before: National title contenders. I don't know if that could be said with the other talented SDSU teams earlier in this decade, even with the nation's best running back in Zach Zenner for a couple of years.