Following a season-opening loss to Huron, the Mitchell High School girls basketball team shook off any early-season rust, mounted two comebacks and came away with a pair of wins on its two-game road trip in Rapid City.
The Kernels used a 19-0 run to erase a double-digit lead to top Rapid City Central, 48-41, and then a day later had a 30-point second quarter to take control of a 70-52 win over Rapid City Stevens, which scored the game’s first eight points.
In the wins, coach Cole Knippling felt Mitchell found its identity. Compared to last year, when it took nearly half of the season for the new-look Kernels to truly find their identity, the senior-led squad comes out of Christmas break with a proven game plan.
The Kernels established an inside presence to set up an inside-out game on offense, while defensively, they effectively switched from man-to-man to a zone defense overnight with no drop-off in production. In other words, Mitchell executed its game plan, even when it fell behind.
“I was happy in terms of the ability to preserve. The way we did it was pretty nice,” Knippling said. “… It was nice to see us have some toughness mentally and be able to battle back when things weren’t going well.”
Mitchell doesn’t want slow starts and turnovers to be a constant theme this year, though. It’s played from behind in all three games, while committing 45 turnovers in its two wins. Knippling said having the right mindset before games could help it start faster. Still, the Kernels are 2-1 and had a chance to take down Huron, despite having “a lot of growing to do.”
Now with a pair of out-of-state teams heading to the Corn Palace on Tuesday and Wednesday in Campbell County (Wyo.) and Thunder Basin (Wyo.), respectively, those areas of improvement will be highlighted.
Both teams are schematically different, though the goal is the same. Whether it’s Campbell County’s run-and-jump press, or Thunder Basin’s 1-2-2 trap press, they want to force turnovers and get out in transition. It’ll be a challenge for the experienced Kernel guards to maintain possession, but also not be forced to play at a faster tempo like against Huron.
“Both teams are going to make you work for 94 feet. And they both just run like crazy on offense, too,” Knippling said. “They really push the ball in transition and get easy buckets. I think the big thing for us is to handle that pressure and make them actually play some defense. They’re trying to make it a track meet.”
Knippling is excited for the challenge of a new opponent outside of the familiar Class AA, and it’ll be even more beneficial given these teams’ track records.
Campbell County has won the Wyoming Class 4A state championship in three of the last five years, placing third and second place the two years it didn’t win. In 2018-19, Thunder Basin won the Class 4A state title, while taking third in 2017-18. Both teams are 3-1 this year.
“You get to the point where you know every kid and everything they do around here. It’s kind of fun and unique to have a couple of new opponents come in,” Knippling said. “… I think it’s a good challenge for us. After that Rapid City weekend, the next question is: Can we keep building off of that?”