Expectations are high once again for the Mitchell High School gymnastics team.
Last season, the Kernels captured their sixth Class AA state championship since 2007 and return a wealth of experience to the lineup this winter.
Mitchell graduated one senior-Bailey Roden-from last season's state-title team. They return three seniors-Maria Krall, Mackenzie Gauger and Kailee Henglefelt-to go along with a host of underclassmen ready to keep it rolling.
"It's a great group," Mitchell coach Audra Rew said. "I had JV kids competing varsity skills that on most teams would be their top varsity. So we had JV kids flipping vaults and doing giants (swings). It's fun to see. It's all about doing their very best and they love doing it. We just hope they keep improving and we can just become really deep."
The Kernels return plenty of depth. Krall was second last season in the all-around at state with a 37.175, finishing no worse than fourth in any of the four individual events. Krall was joined by ninth-grader Gracie Czmowski (sixth place, 35.925), eighth-grader Kaylee Bauder (eighth, 35.5) and sophomore Masy Mock (ninth, 35.4) in the top 10, as all four were also all-tournament team selections.
"This was a core group that really carried our team," Rew said. "So they are just kind of maturing. They were pretty young. We were light on some seventh graders last year. So it's kind of fun to see them coming around as eighth graders relaxing and then the older girls, we can put pressure on them and they can kind of help teach the young ones how to relax and compete hard at a meet."
The Kernels got off to a solid start in the season opener on Monday. Mitchell hosted Yankton and Parkston/Ethan/Hanson in the MHS Triangular. The Kernels scored a 145.00, but Rew wasn't too focused on the scores in the opener.
"Our goal was really not to look at scores," Rew said. "So that's probably about where I thought we would be on a good night. Of course we don't have Maria Krall (Monday). She's going to add some to that."
Rew said Krall, who sustained a minor injury in practice, will be ready for Saturday's Sioux Falls Washington Invitational.
That is where the Kernels will get their first look at Eastern South Dakota Conference foe and state-title contender Watertown, which placed second at state last season. The Arrows return freshman Myah Morris, who won last year's Class AA all-around title.
Rew anticipates the Kernels and Arrows will be battling it out all season once again.
"It will probably be us and Watertown," Rew said. "It is kind of a tradition that's Mitchell and Watertown, and I kind of expect that's where we will be again this year."