It’s been a winter of success for the athletic teams at Mitchell High School.
The basketball teams have answered losing seasons with winning campaigns, and the Kernel wrestling team is having its best dual wrestling season in more than a decade. Even better, the Kernel gymnastics program — which is a year-in, year-out success — improved once again, rising from a state runner-up finish in 2020 to the program’s seventh title since 2007 this season.
Our sports staff has broken down why each Kernel team has had success and what factors will be key for the remainder of the season:
Finish last season: second place at both the Eastern South Dakota Conference (143.325) and Class AA state meets (144.750).
Finish this season: first place at the ESD (146.800) and Class AA state meets (147.800).
One key reason why MHS improved: Depth. After finishing as state runner-ups the past two seasons, the Kernels’ depth propelled them back to the top of the podium.
At state, the Kernels posted team-high scores in vault (36.500), bars (36.500), beam (36.950) and floor (37.850). The Kernels, who had nine different gymnasts medal for top-10 finishes, compiled 147.800 points for the team title. The Kernels topped conference foe and powerhouse Watertown (143.475) for the state title. Having a deep roster also helped the Kernels successfully navigate an odd state format due to COVID-19, which limited each MHS gymnast to just one day of competition at the championship meet.
Outlook: Mitchell’s finish at state put an exclamation point on a dominating season and it also gave it a glimpse into the future. Coach Audra Rew’s Kernels captured the state title with a host of young gymnasts. Mitchell underclassmen -- eighth-grader Joslin Sommerville (third), eighth-grader Bentley Bates (fourth), sophomore Kyra Gropper (fifth) and sophomore Emily Moody (eighth) -- each finished top-10 in the all-around and earned all-tournament honors. Masy Mock is Mitchell’s lone senior, taking part in her fourth Kernel gymnastics team championship.
— Ryan Deal
Record last season: 7-14
Record this season: 13-5
One key reason why MHS has improved: Caden Hinker and Zane Alm. Having two all-state caliber players at 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-10, respectively, gives Mitchell a chance against every team in the state. The two players have accounted for 56 percent of the Kernels’ scoring this season.
Outlook for postseason: If Mitchell can dictate the pace of games and avoid falling behind early, it can contend for the Class AA state championship. The Kernels prefer to play grind-it-out affairs, pounding the ball into the paint to Hinker and Alm. Hinker can make shots anywhere on the court, and when he is hot, it opens opportunities for teammates. Alm has drawn double-teams in the post during the last half of the season, but when he gets one-on-one opportunities, it’s usually an advantage for Mitchell.
With Alm protecting the rim, the Kernels have become one of the best defensive teams in the state. A defense that can slow the pace of the game bodes well in a three-day tournament where scoring can be inconsistent.
— Nick Sabato
Record last season: 8-13
Record this season: 14-3
One key reason why MHS has improved: Mitchell looks vastly improved in seemingly every area this season, which comes down to its experience. Camryn Krogman and Avia Haley have emerged as consistent scoring threats alongside Macy Kempf, while Adaya Plastow’s defense and ball-handling can’t be understated.
But it’s more than their four seniors. Sarah Sebert has shot lights out in recent weeks off the bench, giving the Kernels much-needed production. Most notably, Mitchell’s experience shows with its adaptability, whether changing defenses from game-to-game, or executing in-game adjustments coach Cole Knippling makes at halftime. It means the Kernels are never out of a game. When they fall behind, the mood in the locker room isn’t somber, but rather everyone tries to find a solution. Its 10-game win streak would’ve been broken multiple times without that experience and adaptability.
Outlook for postseason: Currently, Mitchell sits No. 2 in seed points and would host Sturgis in the SoDak 16, which it beat 60-43 earlier this season. Despite rattling off all those wins, it’s hard to accurately predict how the Kernels will fare in the postseason. A high seed in the Round of 16 obviously plays in their favor of making a return trip to the state tournament, but if they’re playing in Sioux Falls at the end of the year, look toward their final three games as a gauge.
This season, Mitchell beat Brandon Valley on the road and played Harrisburg tough, with it being tied with the Tigers heading into the fourth quarter. How it fares at perennial power Sioux Falls O’Gorman, against Sioux Falls Washington and at Aberdeen Central will determine how it stacks up against Class AA’s top teams.
— Jeremy Karll
Record last season: 10-7
Record this season: 20-4
Key reason why MHS has improved: Mitchell is more experienced than it has been in the last two seasons. The Kernels have eight juniors that have wrestled on the varsity team since their freshman seasons and they are beginning to mature. Four of those juniors have placed at the state tournament in their careers, providing valuable experience.
Outlook for postseason: Mitchell head coach Andy Everson believes six wrestlers can reach the state finals this season and the Kernels have a chance at winning a region tournament for the first time since 2008.
Junior Beau Foote reached the Class A finals at 285 pound two years ago and finished third last season. With the graduation of Chamberlain’s four-time state champion Nash Hutmacher, Foote should be in the mix for the top spot on the podium this season with Brandon Valley’s Navorro Schunke and Pierre’s Preston Taylor.
Classmates Joe Van Overschelde (182) and Brock Sparks (132) have placed at the state tournament during their careers, while sophomore Jagger Tyler (126) had two heartbreaking losses last season in the Class B tournament before transferring from Wagner. Overall, the Kernels have a chance to be a top-six team at the state tournament if their experience can deliver during the early portions of the tournament.
— Nick Sabato