Kernel girls to rely on experience, four returning senior starters

Mitchell's Avia Haley dribbles the ball during a game against Brandon Valley last season at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

After an offseason interrupted by COVID-19, it’s expected that the Mitchell High School girls basketball team has some rust and needs time to get back into a groove on the hardwood.

The Kernels missed five girls at various points during their first week of practice, meaning Monday marked the first time they had a full team practice since March. The return of four senior starters can lessen the blow, but not completely shove aside the missed time.

“Initially, we are definitely behind. We are way behind,” Mitchell coach Cole Knippling said. “… (It’s expected) anytime you have a year like that, where we basically had no summer to establish our team bonding, our camaraderie, our X’s and O’s and establish our roles. … I’d like to think by the end of December, all of that lost time will be made up for.”

Heading into his second season, Knippling expects Mitchell’s experience to shorten the learning curve as they make tweaks to his system. Compared to last year’s team needing to replace its entire six-man rotation, the Kernels return starters Macy Kempf, Avia Haley, Adaya Plastow and Camryn Krogman.

Kempf, who led the team in scoring last season, allows Knippling to experiment with the final starting spot. The senior forward can play in the post, but also is a good enough shooter and playmaker to play on the perimeter, allowing for numerous lineups where she can be plugged in wherever needed.


“When you have someone like her, it’s valuable because you can play multiple types of lineups,” Knippling said. “She can make them all work. She’s going to be a key important piece.”

The final two weeks of practice before the Dec. 12 season opener against Huron at the Corn Palace will be dedicated to rounding out the starting lineup, but also working on fundamentals and building its identity on both sides of the court.

Knippling is pleased with Mitchell’s guard depth, which should allow him to have a deeper rotation and implement a full-court press. Last season, the Kernels relied on their half-court defense.

“We’re going to really try to pressure full court a little better,” Knippling said. “Last year, I thought we got back and got solid. The goal is going to be to apply pressure on the ball-handlers for the entire length of the court. It’s a lot easier to do that if we score.”

Offensively, the Kernels return a good base. Kempf can score from anywhere on the court, while Haley and Krogman were both consistent 3-point shooters. Plastow lowered her turnovers through the season and improved as a facilitator, as well.

Still, Mitchell wants to look different on offense, too. Knippling hopes to have a more structured offense, whereas it relied on a motion offense last season.

“This year we’re going to use a little bit more of a continuity-style offense,” Knippling said. “We still have a lot of good motion concepts in it. There’s going to be a lot of action. The ball is going to move side-to-side. … I think the structure of them knowing where the screens are going to come and where the shots are going to come is going to allow us to be better offensively.”

The hope is the tweaks propel Mitchell back to the state tournament after a one-year absence. The Kernels fell 65-48 to Sioux Falls Washington in the SoDak 16 last year, as they finished 8-13.


“I’m excited for this year because I feel our offense and our defense, the plan we have this year -- I think we learned a lot from last year -- and I like how we’re going to be structured this year,” Knippling said. “I think it really complements the personnel we have. I think as the year goes on, it’s going to be a good brand of basketball that is fun to see.”

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