Confident Kernels start fast, start season 4-1 with win over defending state champs

Mitchell's Ava Zilla, left, attacks the ball against Douglas/Rapid City Christian's Taylor Lethco on Aug. 15 at Joe Quintal Field. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

When the Mitchell High School girls soccer team earned its first win over Yankton in program history on Aug. 20, it represented the continued progress the team has seen in recent years but also the mindset it now possesses as a threat in Class AA.

Mia Mullenmeister scored the match’s only goal against the defending Class AA state champions, a common sight for the Kernels and their single-season record holder in goals. Goalie Caroline Titze also notched her second of now four clean sheets during Mitchell’s 4-1 start.

In many ways, it’s how Mitchell envisioned this season to start. It only has one loss, a confidence-boosting win and has proved old narratives to be false nearly halfway through a 12-match slate. Its focus and motivation still hasn’t wavered.

“When we started the season, we looked and we were hoping we’d get this kind of start,” MHS coach Bob Lemon said. “This is not unexpected. We really feel like the games we won, we should’ve won.”
Yankton returned players from last year’s state championship team, though is 1-4. Mitchell also defeated Douglas/Rapid City Christian (1-4), but its résumé-boosting wins came this past weekend over above-.500 competition in Sturgis (2-1) and Spearfish (4-3).

Brandon Valley handed the Kernels their only loss, 2-1, but the Aug. 22 match also featured a hampered Mitchell team once Mullenmeister left with an ankle injury early in the contest. The freshman is day-to-day, but Mitchell’s lengthy breaks between games has helped her miss only two games thus far.


Before the season, a trip out west presented two wins, but without Mullenmeister, the focus became on if the Kernels could find the back of the net without their leading scorer.

Question answered.

Four different players scored over the weekend. Grace Endorf and Ava Zilla both netted goals in a win over Sturgis, while Sam Gerlach and Makenzie Peterson scored versus Spearfish. Marianna Novak assisted on two goals.

“It was confidence boosters for some of them, just knowing we can put the ball in the back of the net,” Lemon said. “I know in the past we have struggled when (Mullenmeister) has been held in check, and now we’ve had some players step up and done their job and finish. That’s still going to be a challenge, but to have that experience, especially this past weekend, was a great opportunity for us to learn a little bit more about ourselves.”

With its confidence growing, Mitchell has already outscored its opponents 16-2 this season, albeit with 10 goals coming against Douglas/Rapid City Christian. The Kernels’ two goals allowed has laid on the consistent play of Titze in net.

The senior goalie saved five shots against Yankton, and added 16 more saves in the two wins over the weekend. She’s provided a stabilizing force behind a defense still trying to find its footing at times.

“She usually doesn’t have those down games where she might be off,” Lemon said. “She’s a competitor and I think that shows in how she prepares. We’ve been fortunate in some games where we’ve been a little lax in our defense and she has stood up.”

Mitchell’s defense in front of Titze has been a slew of players stepping up every game.


“We don’t necessarily rely on that one person,” Lemon said. “We hope to stay together as a unit, but if we have someone struggling, it seems like somebody steps up and does a nice job.”
So far, even without its leading goal scorer, it has yielded positive results. Mitchell sits sixth in Class AA, and No. 4 Rapid City Stevens has only played two matches.

The Kernels host Class A Garretson at 4 p.m. Thursday at Joe Quintal Field, but then host Watertown (Sept. 10) and No. 4 Harrisburg (Sept. 13) to end the home stretch. Their final four opponents are Class A Sioux Falls Christian and the bottom-three teams in Class AA.

The focus of garnering better results in Eastern South Dakota Conference play has a chance to happen. It’d set up Mitchell to host a postseason match for the second straight year, whether it can make noise in the postseason will determine how historic of a season this is for the Kernel program, though. But for now, that’s not on anyone’s mind.

“We know Garretson coming in on Thursday is a Class below us, but we still have to play the game. Garretson has talent,” Lemon said. “If we start looking to certain games and disregard an opponent, that’s when we could get ourselves stung.”

What To Read Next
Get Local