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Kernels prepare for state team title chance

It all comes down to today.

The Mitchell High School gymnastics team looks to close out another state championship season today at the Watertown Civic Arena, as the Kernels are among the favorites for the Class AA team title. Their chief competition will be the host Arrows — the defending state champions — as both Mitchell and Watertown have tangled all season. The team competition starts at 11 a.m. today, while the individual competition is at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Mitchell has had a pair of important victories in the last month of the season, winning the Watertown Invitational Jan. 20 with a score of 145.175 and edging the Arrows again at the Eastern South Dakota Conference meet Feb. 3, scoring 146.250 and securing the top team qualifying score before the state meet. In both of those meets, Mitchell won by less than four-tenths of a point.

Both teams have diametrically different strengths, as well. Mitchell has been tough all season on balance beam and the uneven bars, while Watertown has been strong in the floor exercise and the vault.

If Mitchell is to win its fourth state team championship in five years, coach Audra Rew said her team will need to be able to block out the magnitude of the meet and focus on its own routines.

"They key is ignoring everything around you," Rew said. "Don't worry about the scores and getting caught up in the emotions or over competing. We want to do the exact same things we do in practice and do it the same way we always do."

Mitchell's team roster includes senior Bailey Roden, juniors Maria Krall and Kailee Henglefelt, freshman Masy Mock, eighth-graders Gracie Czmowski and Alyssa Hughes and three seventh-graders in Emily Moody, Kaylee Bauder and Kyra Gropper. Five gymnasts will compete in each event, while the top four scores will count.

It's a diverse but deep lineup and that's what makes the team unique, Rew said, compared to Mitchell's previous successful teams.

"I have everything from kids with three state championships under their belts to kids that have none and have never done this before," she said. "We have a nice combination. It's kind of an ebb and flow with the team and a circle of who is helping the others out."

Mitchell's team competition will start on the balance beam at 11 a.m., followed by floor exercise shortly after noon, vault at 1:10 p.m. and uneven bars at 2:15 p.m. The rotation will replicate what the Kernels did at the ESD meet.

"It's a good setup for us," Rew said. "We'd rather start on beam than finish on beam, for sure."

There was a 6.5-point gap between second (Watertown at 145.875) and third-place state qualifying scores from Brookings (139.375). Rew said Pierre, Yankton and O'Gorman will also be in close competition in the top-six team scores.

As for the top-two scores, expect the Kernels and Arrows to battle until the end.

"Watertown has really come on strong and become more consistent. ... They're going to be tough," Rew said. "We're going to have to be as close to perfect as we can be, so that we can feel comfortable about our shot of beating them."