Don't look now, but the Mitchell High School gymnastics team is entering state on a high note.
The Kernels are the defending state champions and coming off an Eastern South Dakota Conference title after defeating rival Watertown by more than a point-and-a-half - 145.800 to 144.125 - on Feb. 2 in Brookings.
The state gymnastics meet is today and Saturday at the Swiftel Center in Brookings. The team competition starts at 11 a.m. today, while the individual competition is at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.
Mitchell coach Audra Rew said the Kernels needed that mental boost entering state after experiencing some peaks and valleys this season.
"This has been the first team in a long time that we've kind of had ups and downs and I feel like it's never one athlete," Rew said. "It's always somebody different making mistakes. I don't know whether it kind of snowballed into now the pressure of we are returning state champs and that always adds different dynamics. Some kids have relaxed and done a better job. Some kids have gotten more nervous and made mistakes, and so I feel like we just needed this."
Rew felt the Kernels needed the mental boost to show they can perform and get rewarded for doing it. That happened at the ESD meet, and particularly in the vault with Kaylee Bauder (9.3750), Alyssa Hughes (9.300) and Emily Moody (9.300) posting three of the top-five scores.
"I have said by the end of the season our vaults are going to outscore everybody and that's what happened at ESD," Rew said. "So our vault is really what catapulted us ahead."
Now, Rew hopes the trend will continue at state as the Kernels and Arrows project to duke it once more. The Kernels have won six total state championships under Rew's tutelage, including four of the last five Class AA titles. They defeated Watertown for last season's crown, while the Arrows won the 2017 championship over the Kernels.
Mitchell is tied with Sioux Falls O'Gorman for the second-most Class AA state gymnastics titles in state history, while Rapid City Stevens has the most with 12.
Rew said the message going into state will be to not worry about scores and to enjoy the moment.
"Their bodies are trained and they know what to do and we just need to kind of get out of our own way and have fun," Rew said. "We had fun on Saturday (at the ESD) and it helped, and so if we can just relax and have fun and not put extra pressure on ourselves, they will do well."
Teams may compete five gymnasts per event with the top four scores totaled for event team score. Mitchell team competition day roster includes seniors Maria Krall and Kailee Henglefelt, junior Caitlin Ostbye, sophomore Masy Mock, freshmen Hughes and Chelsey Mohr, eighth-graders Moody, Bauder, Kyra Gropper, Sara Mauszycki and Tabitha Sadler and seventh-grader Harley Goldammer.