Kernel girls head to state with focus
The odds are long for the Mitchell girls basketball team this weekend at the state tournament but there's still plenty to accomplish. The Kernels will be big underdogs to the top-ranked squad from Sioux Falls Washington (20-2) when they play toda...
The odds are long for the Mitchell girls basketball team this weekend at the state tournament but there's still plenty to accomplish.
The Kernels will be big underdogs to the top-ranked squad from Sioux Falls Washington (20-2) when they play today at 1 p.m. at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls in the Class AA state tournament quarterfinals.
Mitchell coach Wes Morgan said he's stressed getting better in the 10-day hiatus between when the Kernels clinched their state tournament berth with a 51-44 victory over Sturgis on March 7 and today's game.
"We've tried to focus on getting better, or as much as you can at the end of the season in that period of time," he said. "We want to be prepared and get ourselves as comfortable as we can in the tough spots we're going to face in the tournament."
The Kernels (6-17) will take on either Harrisburg or Rapid City Central on Friday. If Mitchell wins, the game will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Premier Center. With a loss, the Kernels will play the consolation semifinal game at 10 a.m. Friday at Sioux Falls Arena.
On paper, Mitchell will have its challenges with the Warriors, who averaged 54 points per game and allow 43.5 points per game during the regular season. Washington grabs 35 rebounds a game and Mitchell has averaged 23 rebounds per game.
"Inside, they're just really good," Morgan said. "It's got to be one shot and done with them because second shots just kill you."
The Warriors have two losses on the year, with one coming to powerhouse Western Christian (Iowa) and cross-town rival Sioux Falls O'Gorman, which is the No. 2 seed in the girls tournament. Washington is led by two standout stars and a bunch of skilled role players. Anna Goodhope - who is bound to play collegiately at North Dakota State - leads the Warriors with 16 points and six rebounds a game and shoots better than 40 percent from 3-point territory. She's joined by 6-foot post Sydney Arrington, who averages 13.6 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per contest and leads the team making 46 percent of her field goal attempts. A senior, Arrington is bound for Division II Bemidji State (Minn.). Maddie Wiley and Carly Knutson are regular starters that average more than five points per game and make 37 percent or more of their shots. Morgan said it will take every type of defense possible - man-to-man, zone, traps, presses - to slow down their opening round opponent.
"Whatever type of chaos we can create will be good for us," he said.
The Kernels, which averaged 19 turnovers a game during the regular season, will have to avoid giving away possessions in the state tournament, Morgan said. The coach said there will be a focus on protecting the ball and making sure Mitchell gets a good shot on each trip down the floor.
"We know we have to be patient," Morgan said. "We have to go without turning the ball over and we have to be able to get a good shot."
Mitchell has not defeated another team that is appearing at the Class AA tournament, faring 0-8 against schools in the eight-team field. The Kernels lost twice to Harrisburg and three times to Aberdeen Central in Eastern South Dakota Conference play. Mitchell also lost on the road at Rapid City Central, Rapid City Stevens and Sioux Falls O'Gorman in non-conference regular-season play. The Kernels made their way to state on a hot streak at the end of the season, winning four of its last five games.
Statistically for Mitchell, junior Jenna Weich had emerged as the team's most consistent scoring option, averaging nearly eight points a game. Freshman Mackenzie Miller averages 6.5 points per game and is the team's leading rebounder, pulling down 5.5 rebounds per game. Erin Farnham is leading the Kernels in both assists (30) and steals (45). Jordyn Cranny and Tess Limberg are both averaging five points per game.
In all, Washington has six seniors and 11 players on its roster who are upperclassmen. That's in sharp contrast to the Kernels, who have just six upperclassmen are regularly play five freshmen.
"We have those young kids and we'll just do what we can to keep the pressure off of them and put it on our opponents," he said. "With Washington, the pressure is on them. They have high expectations and we need to keep after them. I told our girls 'You're our best chance of making plays here. Give us our best and we'll be fine.'"