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Kernel volleyball notebook: Fast starts have propelled MHS

In their own words, members of the Mitchell High School volleyball team are more concerned with how they finish a match than how they start. But from the opening whistle this season, they've proven to be better than any other Class AA team in the...

Mitchell's Chelsea Brewster blocks at the net as Aberdeen's Haylee Mork's tip attempt catches the net during an Aug. 22 prep volleyball match at Mitchell High School. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)
Mitchell's Chelsea Brewster blocks at the net as Aberdeen's Haylee Mork's tip attempt catches the net during an Aug. 22 prep volleyball match at Mitchell High School. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

In their own words, members of the Mitchell High School volleyball team are more concerned with how they finish a match than how they start.

But from the opening whistle this season, they've proven to be better than any other Class AA team in the state. Mitchell has won the opening set in every match they've played this season - all 16 matches.

That's led to almost exclusively good results, as the Kernels have won 15 of 16 of those matches, including 12 sweeps in straight sets. The only loss for Mitchell this year was at Harrisburg on Sept. 19, a five-set loss to the defending state champions in which Mitchell pulled out the opening frame.

When approached with the statistical anomaly, Kernel coach Deb Thill admitted that Mitchell probably has been lucky to win the first set as frequently as they have.

"It's not something I even was paying any attention to," she said. "As a coach, you're focused on taking it set by set and I think our team has done a good job with that approach as well."

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Mitchell (15-1, 10-1 ESD) has needed extra points in each of the last three matches to keep the opening-set streak going-winning 26-24 at Huron, 26-24 over Watertown Thursday and fending off two set points at Brookings to win 28-26, which was the Kernels' highest scoring set of the year. Prior to stretch, Mitchell won the first set of each match by nearly 10 points on average.

Mitchell middle hitter Carly Haring said the team wants to start every match well and that approach has served the Kernels well.

"We want to come out and play hard from the start," Haring said. "When we do that, we're able to set the tone for the match and build some momentum that we can feed off."

The Kernels have played nearly the entire season either tied with or leading their opponent. Mitchell hasn't trailed in a match since being down 2-1 to Aberdeen Central in the season-opener Aug. 22 in Mitchell, before the Kernels rallied for a five-set victory.

Stretch run

Mitchell has some difficult tests on the schedule in the final month of the season, starting with three matches in the next week which are all important for varying reasons.

The Kernels, who are ranked No. 2 in the state and also No. 2 in Class AA seed points, will head west Friday to play Rapid City Central and Rapid City Stevens on Saturday.

The Cobblers (5-14) are currently 15th in Class AA seed points, meaning Mitchell and RCC would meet in the new Sweet 16 state-qualifying round, if the season ended Monday. On Saturday, the battle between Stevens and Mitchell will pit the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in seed points, as the Raiders are 22-3 on the year, playing more matches than anyone else in Class AA. The Kernels won the first meeting this year, which was Aug. 26 at the Huron Invite in a best-of-three-set match.

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"We have to approach each match for what it is and take them one at a time," Thill said. "I think we're focused on ourselves and we know we have to be better in November than we are right now. Next weekend will be a different challenge for us, going out (to Rapid City) and staying overnight and playing two matches."

On Oct. 17, Mitchell will host No. 1-ranked Harrisburg (13-1) in another match with seed-point implications. Thill said the Kernels aren't afraid of keeping an eye on the state seed-point standings. The remainder of the schedule also includes a road match at No. 4 Aberdeen Central Oct. 31 and the season finale with No. 8 Huron Nov. 4.

"We want to be towards the top, obviously," she said. "There's a lot of those teams in the middle (of the standings). Brookings had two wins and played us tough. It's not really cut and dried."

Related Topics: KERNELS
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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