Kernel basketball notebook: First win is a high note for new coach Kreutzfeldt
Kernel boys and girls basketball opened the 2021-22 season on Saturday.
It was a special moment for Mitchell High School boys basketball coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt on Saturday night.
In his first career game coaching varsity basketball, Kreutzfeldt’s Kernels notched a 61-47 victory over rival Huron. Kreutzfeldt, who previously coached Mitchell sub-varsity basketball for four seasons, admitted to being “extremely nervous” ahead of his coaching debut, but also said that once the game got underway it felt like any other game.
But what followed added another layer to an already memorable night for the 26-year-old.
Several minutes after the final buzzer had sounded, Kreutzfeldt made his way from the Corn Palace’s south radio booths to those on the north end of the court. As he walked through the stands, those still milling around in their seats offered a congratulatory ovation. After fulfilling his media responsibilities, Kreutzfeldt spent time talking and taking pictures with friends and family, as he soaked in the moment.
“I’m just really lucky to do something that I love in a place that I love and my family and friends get to watch,” Kreutzfeldt said. “This place means a lot to me.”
Soulek, McCardle deliver key offense
Senior guard/forward Caden Hinker, a first-team all-state honoree last season, is one of the best players in South Dakota, and, as such, commands a lot of attention from opposing defenses.
That was the case Saturday night and it will likely be a common theme as the season progresses. Kreutzfeldt said ahead of the season that he believes there will be five players who can score on the court at all times for the Kernels, and they’ll need guys to step in and score when teams focus on stopping Hinker.
On Saturday night, juniors Dylan Soulek and Charlie McCardle were particularly impressive in making the most of their opportunities. Soulek scored a game-high 16 points, including a solo seven-point run that featured a one-handed dunk at the start of the third quarter, and McCardle added 10 points of his own on 4-for-6 shooting from the field.
"I was letting the game come to me," Soulek said. "I wasn't rushing anything, so I felt super comfortable out there and obviously it turned out pretty well."
All told, the Kernels got at least seven points from six of the seven players who played major minutes — Soulek, McCardle, Hinker (10), Steele Morgan (8), Gavyn Degen (8) and Macon Larson (7).
Continue to improve
While a double-digit win over a rival in the first game of the season is a welcome outcome, Kreutzfeldt identified a few areas where he’d like to see the Kernels improve.
On the offensive end, the coach feels the Kernels need to improve their half-court motion offense, as well as make a more concerted effort to get Hinker more shots. The 6-foot-8 first-team all-state guard/forward had nine field goal attempts against Huron, though that number is slightly skewed by the number of times Hinker was fouled, as he shot 11 free throws.
However free throws presented a challenge for Mitchell on Saturday, as well. Mitchell got to the free-throw line 41 times in the contest, but connected on only 24 of those attempts, a 58.5% clip. Outside of Dylan Soulek, who shot 10-for-12, the number drops to 48.3% (14-for-29). Kreutzfeldt feels some of the struggle can be chalked up to “first game jitters” and the difficulty of simulating in-game nerves during practice.
Mitchell outrebounded Huron 50-35 on Saturday, but Kreutzfeldt pointed to rebounding as something he felt the Kernels could do even better at moving forward.
Kernel girls still adjusting to new roles
After scoring three points in the first quarter and four points in the third quarter of the 50-26 loss, Mitchell had its lowest point total in Cole Knippling’s three-year tenure as head coach.
Mitchell has bounced back and won its second game of the season following the season-opening loss the previous two seasons. The difference this year is the experience amongst the players taking the court for the Kernels. Coming off a season where Knippling had six seniors at his disposal, this season features three and the entire group is adjusting to being placed in newer, more responsible roles than ever before.
With a roster full of players in different roles from a season ago, Knippling said it's the sense of urgency his inexperienced team will have to adjust to so games like the season-opener don’t repeat themselves.
“We have to get that sense of urgency where we have a stretch of plays where we get a good look offensively and get a big stop defensively,” Knippling said. “We need to get more rebounds, and that will be a challenge all year because we don’t have a lot of size, but I hope we learn to play with more sense of urgency.”
Not only was Mitchell outrebounded by Huron 45-15, but Huron had 15 assists to Mitchell's zero. Knippling said the Kernels have to offset that going forward by helping themselves on one end of the court so it will translate to the other.
"I'm a defense-first coach and we were trailing players off the screen and we were getting beat off the dribble too much," Knippling said. "It was so many spots where we were lost defensively and that's putting ourselves in tough positions. But if we scored more, that would have taken pressure off our defense. I've said before, basketball is complementary and they have to help each other out on both sides of the floor."
Both Kernel squads take on Watertown on Tuesday, Dec. 14. The Mitchell girls are at Watertown at 7 p.m., while Mitchell boys varsity will host the Arrows at 7 p.m. at the Corn Palace.