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For Mitchell, the state tournament is the next goal to turn the corner

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Mitchell's Carter Jacobsen (24) is fouled coming down with a rebound during a game against Pierre on Feb. 23 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Todd Neuendorf attends the state basketball tournament regularly, but since he has become the head coach at Mitchell High School, it has been as a spectator.

This season, the Kernel boys basketball team hopes to change that after missing the state tournament for the last seven years. Mitchell is still in the rebuilding process and may not be a state championship contender yet, but there is a feeling around the program that this could be the year to climb from the Class AA basement.

The Kernels feature a roster with one senior, so improvement is still crucial but the goal for Mitchell is to progress enough throughout the season to reach the state tournament.

“I don’t want people to sit on their seat and look at every win and loss,” Neuendorf said. “Because there’s going to be some ups and downs. We have to weather those peaks and valleys and not get too high when things are going good. You have to keep those young guys in perspective, keep putting them in position and challenging them.”

Neuendorf’s expectations have not been kept a secret, particularly amongst the players. After a summer of shooting sessions, league games and a trip to the University of Wisconsin for a team camp, Mitchell has put in a significant amount of effort into improvement.

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For the players, they were able to sample a taste of what success could be like last season, but those opportunities were few in a 2-19 campaign. The emergence of the versatile scoring from 6-foot-6 then-freshman Caden Hinker helped put the Kernels in a position to compete nightly.

Mitchell went from scoring more than 50 points five times in two years to averaging 52.4 points per game a year ago, led by Hinker’s 16.2 and junior swingman Carter Jacobsen’s 13.8.

“Ever since (Neuendorf) got here, that’s been the goal,” Hinker said. “He kind of tagged us as the guys to do it. I think it’s really important. We have the guys to do it and I think we can get it done.”

The Kernels saw Ben Helleloid step into the starting point guard role at times last year as a sophomore, while 6-foot-7 Zane Alm and 6-foot-6 Ryley Johansen saw increased minutes in the post as the season progressed.

After losing all six games last December by an average of 21 points per game, 11 of the last 15 games were decided by 10 points or fewer. So, a hot start at No. 5-ranked Huron at 7 p.m. on Saturday is critical, particularly since Mitchell then travels to Rapid City for back-to-back games on Dec. 20-21.

“Nobody gives you credit, you have to earn it,” Neuendorf said. “Almost doesn’t count until you earn respect and people fear you. We’re trying to get these kids -- when they walk in the gym -- to play like they’re the favorite instead of, ‘Oh, let’s just trying to stay close.’ ”

After four of its first six games are on the road, the schedule sets up for a favorable stretch that features eight of 10 games from Jan. 11 to Feb. 15 at the Corn Palace before back-to-back road games against Sioux Falls O’Gorman and Yankton.

“We really want to turn that corner,” Jacobsen said. “Last year, we really felt it. Some games were really close and we lost in the last couple of minutes. This year, we’re going to get some wins. We realize it would be really big for this town and we want everyone to be excited to watch basketball again.”

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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