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Mitchell Kernel boys basketball aims to continue steady rise in 2021-22

Mitchell's roster boasts three seniors and eight juniors — eight returners from last season's seventh-place state tournament team.

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Mitchell junior guard/forward Dylan Soulek shoots a contested layup during the Kernels' intra-squad scrimmage on Dec. 4, 2021, at the Corn Palace. (Landon Dierks / Republic)

Recent years have brought on constant improvement by the Mitchell High School boys basketball program, and the Kernels don’t expect the 2021-22 season to be any different.

Mitchell has increased its win total from the previous season three years in a row, and with a strong group of returners from last season’s 16-8 state tournament team and a renewed energy under first-time head coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt, the Kernels have high expectations for themselves. Mitchell opens the season against Huron on Friday, Dec. 10 at the Corn Palace.

“They know what’s coming and that they’re going to be under the radar a little bit,” Kreutzfeldt said of the Kernels. “But they know how good each other are and that they’ve been putting in a lot of time, so they’re excited to get going and I’m really excited for them. I think it’s going to be a fun year.”

During a Dec. 4 intra-squad scrimmage, the Kernels showcased an up-tempo offense compared to those of recent years and one that, when at its best, will be centered around senior first-team all-state wing Caden Hinker’s ability to distribute as much as score, according to Kreutzfeldt.

Hinker, who Kreutzfeldt regards as “one of, if not the best player in South Dakota,” has led the Kernels in scoring each of the past three seasons and averaged 16.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and five assists per game for the Kernels in 2020-21. The 6-foot-8 Augustana commit’s combination of size and skill makes him one of the toughest covers in the state, meaning he’ll be the focus of opposing defense’s schemes every time he steps on the court.

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“If I was playing the Kernels, I would not let Caden Hinker score 30 points and beat us,” Kreutzfeldt said. “He’s going to see box-and-ones, doubles and triples, so the way we’re using him is as a facilitator. That’s an adjustment, but he’s doing a really nice job.”

In addition to Hinker, the Kernels are likely to start seniors Macon Larson — who did not play in 2020 — and Gavyn Degen alongside juniors Steele Morgan and Dylan Soulek. Off the bench, Kreutzfeldt points to a rotation including juniors Charlie McCardle and Aiden Myers and freshman Markus Talley.

“I think this is the most well-rounded team since I’ve been here,” Kreutzfeldt said. “At all times, we’re going to have five guys on the floor who can score. If we’re going to have a weakness, it’s going to be defensively and we’re working every day at that.”

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Mitchell junior guard Aiden Myers powers up a contested shot during the Kernels' intra-squad scrimmage on Dec. 4, 2021, at the Corn Palace. (Landon Dierks / Republic)

Throughout the summer and fall, Kreutzfeldt had the Kernels participate in numerous team camps and leagues to prepare them for the season ahead. Those settings helped Kreutzfeldt see players in a variety of different roles against quality competition, something the coach feels is invaluable ahead of what he hopes is a special first campaign.

When it comes to expectations within the Kernel program, there are some things that don’t require much explanation. Mitchell received four votes in the preseason basketball poll, the seventh-most of all teams in Class AA, but after a seventh-place finish at last year’s state tournament, the aspirations are much higher this time around.

“We want to win those tough games down the stretch and if we play together, the results will play themselves out,” Hinker said.

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Added Larson: “Every one of us was always at open gyms busting our butts before the season, and we’ve had a really good first week of practice. Our expectations are obviously to make it there and then make a deep run in the state tournament.”

Related Topics: BASKETBALLPREP 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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