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Kernels set to face off with Watertown in conference meet

For the past four years, the Eastern South Dakota Conference gymnastics meet has boiled down to Mitchell versus Watertown. This year will be no different. The teams will go at it Saturday in the conference meet in Watertown, when the two will be ...

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Matt Bunke/Republic Mitchell's Molly Cahoy competes on the uneven bars during a trianguar meet at Wagner in January. The Kernels will be in search of their third straight ESD conference title Saturday in Watertown.

For the past four years, the Eastern South Dakota Conference gymnastics meet has boiled down to Mitchell versus Watertown.

This year will be no different. The teams will go at it Saturday in the conference meet in Watertown, when the two will be heavy favorites.

The two state heavyweights have finished first and second in the ESD meet each of the last four years. Watertown won it in 2005 and 2006 and Mitchell won it the last two years to end a streak of four straight for Watertown.

"It's a friendly rivalry," Mitchell coach Audra Rew said. "We all visit and talk and go to camps together, but we're their No. 1 goal, and they are our No. 1 goal. It's definitely a conversation in the gyms."

For Mitchell, a team that for the last several years has gone into the season with sights set on a state title, a conference meet might not seem like a big deal, especially with the state meet looming only three weeks away. Rew said that's not the case.

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"The ultimate goal is state, but a conference championship is the second most important thing to us," she said. "We would definitely like to win it a third year in a row."

For Mitchell to do that, the Kernels will need to be good, but not necessarily perfect. The Kernels haven't lost a meet since the season-opening Sioux Falls Invite, and have beaten Watertown numerous times this season, including at that Sioux Falls Invite, when the Arrows finished in third. But although the Arrows haven't beaten Mitchell yet this season, the 146 they posted in a meet recently is higher than any score Mitchell has posted this season.

"If you put both of us head to head, them doing their very best routines and us doing our very best routines, it's going to be tight," Rew said. "This will be the closest year ever. What's going to matter is who is most mentally tough, and who can hit the most routines."

If Mitchell does hit its routines, Rew thinks it should be enough to hold off the Arrows for the third straight year. If all the Kernels score near their season best, she believes they can score in the 147 or even 148 range.

"I would love to see all the kids hit their routines," Rew said. "It doesn't even have to be the best scores they've had all year, but if they hit solid routines, stay on the equipment and do the routines they do in practice, our score will be by far the best we've done all season. We haven't done that yet. I would really like to see our top three kids hit all at the same time. I think if that happens, I don't think Watertown can beat us."

For Mitchell, it will help to have the big score that junior Amelia Rew always posts. She has won every meet she's competed in this year after missing Mitchell's home triangular to start the season. Audra Rew also said she was excited that Coty Zell would be able to return to compete on floor after an injury kept her from doing so much of the season.

Rew said the gymnasts wouldn't be adding any skills between now and state as the focus has switching to perfecting their routines as they are right now. She also said that while bar scores have been low for her team this year, it might be a reflection of lower judging, not on poorer performance.

Therefore, Rew said she's not looking for drastic improvements in any one event; she just wants several people to step up on each of the four events.

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"It's really not one event across the board," she said. "It's one or two people on each event that could really improve us a lot. I guess I'm looking more at individual areas instead of individual events where we could improve."

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