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Mitchell High School gymnastics prepares to defend state title

The Mitchell High School gymnastics team's season starts Tuesday in Yankton.

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Mitchell's Kyra Gropper competes on the bars during the Class AA state championships on Saturday at the Watertown Civic Center. (Ryan Deal / Republic)
Matt Gade
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Nine months ago, the Mitchell High School gymnastics team won its seventh state championship since 2007. Now, the Kernels are gearing up to start the process over again.

Mitchell returns all four of its top-10 individual finishers — freshmen Joslin Sommerville and Bentley Bates along with juniors Kyra Gropper and Emily Moody — from last year’s state meet, but they’re not content with where they were back in February.

“There was a definite desire to upgrade and add difficulty to their routines,” explained coach Audra Rew. “That was exciting and made the offseason a lot of fun. … I’m hoping by Christmas break we’ll be able to really see the benefits of all the hard work.”

The Kernels begin their 2021-22 campaign Tuesday in Yankton at a triangular also featuring Parkston/Ethan/Hanson/Mount Vernon. While Rew says her team is battling through some injuries early in the season, she also says there’s a positive to be found.

Some of the more experienced gymnasts are going to get time to rest and recover, which can prove invaluable at the end of a demanding season. Those absences also represent an opportunity for less-experienced varsity gymnasts to compete and potentially earn a more permanent spot moving forward.

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When the Kernels are fully healthy, Rew expects the bars and balance beam to be disciplines in which her team can create separation in the scoring, saying the pair can “make or break a meet.”

While the Kernels expect to depend on that pair of strengths, at February’s state championship meet Mitchell recorded the highest team scores in vault, bars, beam and floor — hinting that the experienced group could be poised for an exceptionally well-rounded season.

“We have talked about our school record and trying to break that record,” Rew said. “We’re kind of focused on individual things within our team. If that puts us on top at the end of the day, that’s just a bonus.”

Despite the team’s championship experience, improvement and high expectations, there’s not a lot of pressure being felt at this early stage, according to Rew.

“The girls put more pressure on themselves than we could ever put on them as a team,” Rew said. “They want perfection in everything they do, so sometimes I have to dial them back.”

Mitchell will compete at home thrice this season, hosting a quad with Sioux Falls O'Gorman, Pierre and Yankton on Dec. 9 at Mega Gymnastics, followed by the Jill McCormick Invitational on Dec. 18 at the Corn Palace. The Eastern South Dakota Conference meet on Feb. 5, 2022, will also be at the Corn Palace.

Rew is excited for the season to start and for some new faces to gain experience — a feeling she says is reflected by her team. But the season is more of a marathon, not a sprint, which is a fact the coach is careful to navigate when addressing goals and expectations for the team.

“It’s a long haul, so we don't have to be perfect at the beginning of the season,” Rew said. “We just need to be good and build on our routines, then when we get healthy we’ll start pushing hard and hopefully peak at the state meet.”

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Mitchell's Emily Moody does her floor routine during the Class AA state championships on Saturday at the Watertown Civic Center. (Ryan Deal / Republic)
Matt Gade

Related Topics: GYMNASTICSPREP SPORTS
Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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