Kernel hoopers make up for lost time after offseason wiped out by COVID-19

Mitchell's Dylan Soulek drives past a Sturgis defender during a game on Feb. 8 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Mitchell High School boys basketball team has much to do and little time do so. But the Kernels are just happy to be back in the gym.

A summer originally packed with team camps, one-on-one drills and summer leagues fell by the wayside thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing Mitchell to spend the early portion of preseason practices doubling back to cover lost time.

The Kernels were able to hone individual skills during the offseason, which eliminated a chunk of time typically devoted to drills, but scrimmaging, implementing offensive plays and defensive schemes are the focus until the season tips off against Huron on Dec.12.

“The first three days are kind of a pain because you’re trying to move them around, play them in different spots so you can look at people,” MHS head coach Todd Neuendorf said. “Then we can start putting people where we want. The thing we’re behind the most is the five-on-five because we haven’t been able to do it.”

One benefit of being forced to cram a variety of new and different information into two weeks of practices is that it will force players to remain focused rather than worrying about looking ahead to the first game after a string of practices.


Mitchell is coming off a 7-14 campaign, with four returning starters and two key reserves from last season, which means expectations are higher for the team this season. The Kernels are no longer considered an easy win in Class AA, so they are expecting to face more rigid game plans from opponents and the preparation keeps players focused early in the season.

“This is the first year we’re trying stuff that we’ve never done before,” Neuendorf said. “That keeps them engaged because we are trying stuff, adjusting stuff. But we’ll have to get ready to work against what the other teams are going to do. We think we’re going to see a lot of different stuff, even from the first game against Huron.”

As Neuendorf begins his fourth season at the helm, it is the first season that each player in the program has not experienced a coaching change. Junior Caden Hinker (17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game) and senior Zane Alm (9.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.2 blocks per game) have each played for Neuendorf for four seasons.

With such experience, Mitchell does not have to spend large portions of practice review sets used during the previous three seasons and can dive right into the new schemes the coaching staff has designed for this year.

The Kernels are also attempting to ensure each player understands assignments and defensive sets with the uncertainty of COVID-19. Mitchell could face scenarios in which key players are missing due to illness and a seldom-used player must step in.

“You’re not going to cancel a game because one player or one starter has to sit out,” Neuendorf said. “You’re going to school, you’re coming to practice -- you don’t need to hang out with buddies somewhere. You have to give us three months just so we can have a season. There are going to be instances where you can’t help it, but you can’t put yourself in a position to wipe out the whole season.”

What To Read Next
Get Local