Most teams have senior leadership, but the Mitchell High School girls basketball team takes it to another level.
Kernel coach Wes Morgan knew he'd have to lean on his six seniors this season, composing his entire starting-five of seniors. It's led to a 3-3 start, with wins over Huron, Rapid City Central and Waconia (Minn.) in the Hoop City Classic. Meanwhile, Mitchell's three losses have come to teams a combined 16-1 this year, including Class AA No. 1 Brandon Valley and No. 3 Harrisburg.
Through the ups and downs, Tess Limberg, Jordyn Cranny, Mandy Schmidt, Tayler Factor, Mackenzie Miller and Dakota Wesleyan University commit Payton Morgan have been the senior backbone for the Kernels.
"It's a lot of fun. We've learned to play as a team," Limberg said. "We've been playing since we were little, so it's a lot of fun playing something we love together."
With a roster full of seniors, there's not a lack of motivation to return to the state tournament and avenge last season's SoDak 16 loss to Brandon Valley.
That started in the summer when Mitchell put an emphasis on improved shooting, which is still a focal point six games into the season. With the amount of work Mitchell's put in, its desire to win and end their high school careers on a high note has been more evident, notably after Thursday's 65-37 loss to Harrisburg.
"It's like they have skin in the game and care what's going on," coach Morgan said. "(Thursday's) loss to Harrisburg, the locker room was not real happy. Not necessarily because we lost, but how we lost. I think it matters to the kids now and it didn't use to be that way."
Offensively, the Kernels have had a slew of contributors. Limberg's season-high 26 points in Mitchell's season opener against Huron is the highlight for the group, however, she, Factor and Payton Morgan have all led the team in scoring at least once this season. Miller has also come on in the last two games, scoring 11 points in each.
Coach Morgan hopes to see more consistency out of his senior group moving forward, instead of riding the hot hand every night, but there's no doubt the Kernels have options.
"It's great that everyone who plays varsity can score," Limberg said. "We all work together and whoever it is doesn't matter because we all do it together."
The seniors' impact goes beyond the basketball court, though, as leaders on the court and in the community. Coach Morgan didn't distinguish a single leader, saying, "they all look toward each other. They're all in a group." Miller leads by example as she tries to teach the younger girls to push the seniors in practice as it benefits everyone in the long run.
And they don't shy away from being involved outside of basketball, too.
"They're fun to be around and they care about the kids," Coach Morgan said. "We go to First Lutheran (Church) and talk to the little kids there, read to them. They just seem to be engaged and want to be part of the community."
On the court, the Kernels' goal hasn't changed from before the season. They want to keep becoming more consistent in every aspect of the game in hopes that it culminates in a return to the state tournament.
"The past four years, we haven't had a lot of success in the win column, but this year, with shooting all summer and working together, we're putting it all together," Miller said. "... Being a senior, it's a little more wanting to get to that state tournament, wanting to be over .500. The wins mean a little more."