Eleven seniors ended their volleyball careers at Mitchell High School last Saturday with a five-set comeback win over Brookings in the fifth-place match at the Class AA state tournament in Sioux Falls.
Those seniors won't graduate with a state championship or a conference championship, but they have made a lasting impact on the Mitchell volleyball program.
Led by the quartet of Mackenzie Miller, Chelsea Brewster, Mandy Schmidt and Carly Haring, the Kernels recorded 56 wins during the past three seasons-with back-to-back trips to the state tournament-after going 3-22 as freshmen. All four players also reached a personal or school milestone at some point this season.
"They're very special to me because I've known them since they were very little," said MHS head coach Deb Thill, whose daughter Bridget recorded 854 career digs as member of the senior class. "The bigger thing is the positive influence they've had on the (younger) kids. The things they do in the community and the things that they do with our rec program. They're such great role models and you couldn't ask for a better bunch of kids."
Miller did not have the senior season she had envisioned after racking up 459 kills as a junior en route to winning The Daily Republic's player of the year, thanks to a torn ACL during the basketball season that kept her out of action for the first seven matches.
Despite dropping a match to Sioux Falls O'Gorman in the opening round of the state tournament, Miller found a way to show off what kind of player she's been for MHS, as she became the school's all-time leader in kills in the consolation semifinals-breaking the previous record of 1,160 held by Taylin Alm-in a win over Sioux Falls Roosevelt. Then, Miller put down the match-winning kill in the consolation final, ending her career with 1,189.
"It's awesome, but I couldn't have done it without my teammates," Miller said.
Miller earned the kill on the final point of that match against Brookings, but another all-time leader put her in a position to do so. Schmidt, who is Mitchell's all-time leader in assists, needed 35 to reach 3,000 for her career entering the match.
Schmidt lobbed an over-the-head set to Miller on that match-winning kill, giving her 49 assists on the day and 3,019 for her career, eclipsing Gina Baldwin's previous Mitchell record of 2,077.
"It's crazy knowing I got that many, but I'm so thankful to have such good hitters and to have good passers that can get me the ball," Schmidt said.
With Miller sidelined to start the season, Haring took on a larger role this year, posting a career-high 301 kills to close out her career. The 6-foot-2 senior made her living at the net, though, as she finished her Mitchell career as the all-time leader in blocks with 273.
After recording just 16 as a freshman, Haring exploded as a sophomore, racking up a total of 81. She would go on to post a pair of 88-block seasons the last two years.
"It's amazing to break records with everyone on the team and I couldn't do it without them," Haring said.
Brewster also stepped up to the plate in Miller's absence, following up a breakout junior campaign that netted 311 kills, the 5-foot-11 outside hitter led the Kernels with 338 in 2018.
On the same night that Miller broke the school's all-time record for kills, Brewster needed just two kills to surpass 1,000 for her career. She picked up 18 in the 3-1 win over Roosevelt and finished with 1,032 for her career.
"It's more about how our team finished," Brewster said. "It's great that I got 1,000, but I'm more proud about what we accomplished as a team."