Going to the state tournament at the end of the season was once a foregone conclusion for the Mitchell High School basketball program.
During a 30-year stretch from 1983-2012, the Kernels made 29 appearances in the state tournament, with 13 trips to the finals and nine state championships. It has been eight years since Mitchell advanced to the state tournament, amassing a 21-109 record during that time, including a 1-19 campaign last season.
Last year was the first under head coach Todd Neuendorf, who made seven appearances in 11 seasons at Aberdeen Roncalli. Now, he is ready to return Mitchell basketball to the pedestal it was once proudly perched upon after six straight losing seasons.
"Our expectation is to be back in the state tournament," Neuendorf said. "Our kids now were pretty small the last time Mitchell was in the state tournament. ... We won the last game we played and those seniors had won six games in three years and we have to change that. This has been a culture change and it continues to be a culture change. Winning breeds winning, just like losing breeds losing."
Neuendorf believes the Kernels used last season's buzzer-beating win over Pierre in the season finale as a stepping stone during the summer. Not only did it avoid a winless campaign and snap a 42-game losing streak, but it provided some confidence for the returning players and underclassmen rising through the program.
The Mitchell upperclassmen feel a different vibe around the team this season. They are ready to wash away the taste of losing-coming from just seven wins in the last three years-but to help a wave of younger players improve to get the program back on track.
"We're sick of losing. I think everyone is," MHS senior Kiel Nelson said. "We have to get things moving in the right direction for these younger guys so we can get back to what Mitchell basketball once was."
One of Mitchell's biggest deficiencies last season was on the offensive end of the floor. The Kernels shot just 34.1 percent from the field, 23.7 percent from 3-point range and averaged just 41.9 points per game.
Some of that was due to a lack of size and an inside presence. It forced Mitchell to play a slower brand of basketball and cost them on the glass, where the Kernels were outrebounded 32-25 on average.
With the addition of some size this season-freshman Caden Hinker and sophomores Ryley Johansen and Zane Alm all stand at least 6-foot-5-Mitchell can move Nelson back to the wing and play a more uptempo style on offense, despite losing leading scorer Carter Cavanaugh to graduation.
Not only do the Kernels want to play fast, but they want to start the season fast, not just in the opening game, but in the opening possession, to build confidence.
"When you've got a young basketball team, sometimes they don't realize how good they or could be," Neuendorf said. "...I think we have a group of kids that don't care who they're playing, they just want to get out and play."
Mitchell opens the season against Huron on Dec. 8 at the Corn Palace.