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ESD coaches poll has 11AA conference wide open

Fasten your seatbelts, Mitchell High School football fans. The start of the 2016 season is only a few days away and the race to the top of Class 11AA appears to be extremely close. Both the South Dakota Sportswriters Association football poll and...

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Fasten your seatbelts, Mitchell High School football fans.

The start of the 2016 season is only a few days away and the race to the top of Class 11AA appears to be extremely close.

Both the South Dakota Sportswriters Association football poll and an Eastern South Dakota football coaches poll, conducted by The Daily Republic, have slim margins separating the top teams.

In the coaches poll, all six 11AA ESD coaches were asked to rank each team - except their own - one through five. Teams picked to finish first received five points in a system that awards five points to first place, four for second, third for third, two for fourth and one for fifth.

The poll was conducted via e-mail and had three teams-Mitchell, Harrisburg and Yankton-all receive two first-place votes.

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In the poll, Mitchell finished third with 17 points and two first-place votes. Two-time defending state champion Yankton was picked first with 20 points and two first-place votes, while Harrisburg was tabbed second with 19 points and two-first place votes.

"(Class 11) AA is wide open and it's exciting," Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "We're humbled to be in consideration (at the top) at the preseason, but we know we need to take it one game at a time. I don't think we'll change our approach and look for the outcome, we'll focus on the process."

The ESD coaches poll was similar to the Class 11AA SD Sportswriters Association poll as Mitchell, Harrisburg and Yankton each received first-place votes. Yankton held the top spot with 31 points and five first-place votes, while Mitchell was in second with 28 points and two first-place votes and Harrisburg was in third place with 26 points and one first-place vote.

"That's what I love about the development of 11AA football, every year there's an opportunity for six teams to win a state title," VanOverschelde said. "The ingredients are very simple. You have to work, you have to have a skilled team, but you have to stay healthy. You have to play well at the end of the year. The parity and competitiveness, in my opinion, makes 11AA football very exciting."

Last year, Pierre won the Class 11AA Eastern South Dakota Conference title but fell to Yankton in the Class 11AA state championship game. Both Mitchell and Harrisburg fell in the semifinal round of the 11AA playoffs. All four teams plan to be in the mix for both an ESD and state title, with Brookings and Huron also factoring in. In the 11AA ESD coaches poll, Pierre finished in fourth place with 15 points, Brookings placed fifth with 14 points and Huron was in sixth place with five points.

"You have to survive a couple weeks here and there," VanOverschelde said. "Every game counts for playoff significance. You have to be ready every week for a very good opponent, plus you have to play those (11) AAA teams and take care of business."

In the Class 11AAA portion of the poll, three out of five coaches responded ranking the five 11AAA ESD schools. Aberdeen Central received the most points (13) and one first-place vote, while Brandon Valley, which was last year's 11AAA ESD champion, finished second with 10 points and two first-place votes. Rapid City Stevens was voted third with eight points, Watertown was tabbed fourth with seven points and Rapid City Central was picked fifth with two points.

This is the second year both Rapid City Central and Rapid City Stevens are in the ESD for football.

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Mitchell opens its 2016 campaign against Harrisburg in the first annual Kernel Bowl at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Joe Quintal Field. The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Kernels, as Mitchell will host Yankton on Sept. 2 at Joe Quintal Field. With the first two games shaping up to be against the Kernel's top competition in Class 11AA, VanOverschelde said Mitchell will need to focus on the task at hand.

"We feel fortunate to host those first two games at the beginning of the season," VanOverschelde said. "Our No. 1 focus is Harrisburg and with the experiences our players have and their approach to the work, I think we can be in position for a very competitive football game that will get people excited about 11AA football from the beginning all the way to the end, because it's going to be fun to watch."

ESD Class 11AA coaches poll

Totals: (First-place votes in parentheses)

1. Yankton, 20 (2)

2. Harrisburg, 19 (2)

3. Mitchell, 17 (2)

4. Pierre, 15

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5. Brookings, 14

6. Huron, 5

ESD Class 11AAA coaches poll *2 coaches not voting

Totals: (First-place votes in parentheses)

1. Aberdeen Central, 13 (1)

2. Brandon Valley, 10 (2)

3. RC Stevens, 8

4. Watertown, 7

5. Rapid City Central, 2

Related Topics: KERNELSFOOTBALL
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