Dierks: Mitchell basketball seniors leave program in 'unbelievably different place'
"What we did was something special," said senior Dylan Soulek. "We brought the community together. We brought life back to Mitchell basketball."
RAPID CITY — Saturday night’s Class AA championship game appearance marked the end of an incredible journey for the 2022-23 Mitchell boys basketball team.
The moment was especially emotional for the Kernels' 2023 senior class.
An abnormally large class of seven — Dylan Soulek, Steele Morgan, Charlie McCardle, Aiden Myers, AJ Siemsen, Gavyn Erickson and Jackson Childs — was on the front edge of a movement to set the program back on the right track and restore the meaning behind being a Mitchell Kernel.
With a runner-up finish, the program’s best state tournament showing since 2012, they accomplished that goal and then some.
“We've been through thick and thin together, coach included,” Soulek said. “It hurts right now knowing that we fell short, but in the end, it's all going to be OK, because what we did was something special. We brought the community together. We brought life back to Mitchell basketball.”
It’s a crew that took immense pride in outworking everyone else and being the tougher team on a night-in and night-out basis. The result was Mitchell coming mere moments from a state championship.
From the beginning, this group of Kernels leaned into feelings of being doubted. Though he feels the program’s season-long showing commands that respect, McCardle isn’t simply going to forgive and forget.
“I hope that everyone keeps doubting Mitchell basketball because we're just going to keep proving everyone wrong,” McCardle said “We got no respect coming into this tournament. We ended up here (in the championship game) and people are trying to give us respect. We're not taking any of that right now.”
Alongside McCardle, Soulek and company nearly every step of the way for the past five years has been Ryker Kreutzfeldt.
When this year’s seniors were rising eighth-graders, he coached them during the summer. A year later when they entered the high school program, Kreutzfeldt was the freshman coach, who then moved up to coach the sophomore team the next season before being named head coach.
As such, while the bond between Kreutzfeldt and the class of 2023 was molded through basketball, it extends far beyond the sidelines and locker rooms.
“It's just seven kids that I love,” Kreutzfeldt said. “Not so much like sons, but like my best friends.”
“They gave me confidence in myself that I can do this, and they helped me find my passion in life,” he continued. “They allowed me to learn from them and in games and to make mistakes. They've changed my life, and I will never be able to repay them for what they've done for me.”
In the wake of Mitchell’s defeat in the championship game, Kreutzfeldt reflected on the body of work these Kernels put in and the transformation they helped spur through the power of hard work, belief and an intense commitment to one another.
“I feel so unbelievably bad for our seniors because of all the work they put in, but if they didn't do all that, we would have never been here,” Kreutzfeldt said. “But they can be so proud of the fact that they did all the things that they had to do to get here. I think in the end, you just want to leave the program in a better place. From when they started to (now), the program is an unbelievably different place.”