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In midst of frenetic summer schedule, Kernel basketball excels at Kansas team camp

The Mitchell High School boys basketball team attended a regional team camp at the University of Kansas, where it emerged as one of the top teams.

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Mitchell High School boys basketball players (from left) AJ Siemsen, Jackson Childs and Aiden Myers and coaches Ryker Kreutzfeldt and Pat Moller celebrate a made 3-pointer from bench during an Eastern South Dakota Conference game against Yankton on Friday, January 7, 2022, at the Corn Palace. Siemsen, Childs and Myers were among the MHS athletes to attend the Bill Self team camp June 17-19, in Lawrence, Kansas.
Mitchell Republic file photo
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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Far from the friendly confines of the Corn Palace, the Mitchell High School boys basketball team recently made itself comfortable at a new venue — Allen Fieldhouse, home of the 2022 NCAA men's basketball national champion Kansas Jayhawks.

At the 2022 Bill Self (the University of Kansas head coach since 2003) team camp, hosted at KU's on-campus arena June 17-19, the Kernels established themselves as one of the top teams in attendance, finishing the weekend 5-1 with an appearance in the top-four bracket.

"This crew of seniors has just been so dedicated since their sixth-grade year when we started working with them, so I wanted to take them somewhere cool," said MHS head coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt. "I figured the University of Kansas, the national champions, that'd be a pretty good spot to go.

"I know we have a competitive group, so I wanted to get into a camp that would be competitive where we'd face some good teams, which we definitely did," Kreutzfeldt continued. "I think we learned a lot down there and got a little bit better, so that's the best part."

The camp was a destination for teams from across the Midwest, with Kansas and Missouri well-represented. However, Mitchell wasn't the only South Dakota school to make the trek south, with Clark/Willow Lake and McLaughlin also in attendance.

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Kreutzfeldt was joined by a group of nine Kernels — Jackson Childs, Gavyn Erickson, Charlie McCardle, Steele Morgan, Aiden Myers, AJ Siemsen, Colton Smith, Gavin Soukup and Markus Talley — for the nearly seven-hour trip, which began at 6 a.m. on June 17.

Compared to what Kreutzfeldt expects his varsity roster to look like for the 2022-23 season, Mitchell was able to play with a mostly intact roster at the camp, led by Morgan, a 2021-22 all-Eastern South Dakota Conference selection, alongside other key contributors from last season's state tournament team in McCardle and Myers. Among the expected returners for 2022-23, only Dylan Soulek, a standout for the Post 18 Legion baseball team which is in the midst of its own successful summer, was unable to attend.

While the Kernels regularly attend team camps in the area each summer — Mitchell visited Dakota Wesleyan, Augustana and the University of South Dakota in 2021 — they have also added longer trips to visit top Division I programs on a less-frequent basis in recent years, including to the University of Memphis and University of Wisconsin.

"Back when [former coach Todd] Neuendorf was here, we'd try to mix in as many as we could around here and then every other year try to get to a big one," Kreutzfeldt explained. "We try to mix one of those in to give kids a chance to see a big college, live on campus for a couple of days and all that good stuff."

The trip to Kansas is only the most recent stop in an offseason chock-full of events for the Kernels. Only days prior to departing for Lawrence, Mitchell was at the Augustana team camp on June 10-11 before a trip to Hamlin on June 13 and Cornbelt competition on June 15-16 in Mitchell. This week, on June 21, Mitchell started competing in a league at the Pentagon in Sioux Falls, with more Cornbelt action on June 22-23. Across all competitions, Mitchell basketball competed in 30 games in a span of 13 days.

Additionally, the Kernels have been participating in basketball workouts with a Sioux Falls-based trainer on top of their regular schedule of open gyms and other team activities.

But regardless of what form it takes on a given day, the aim for Kreutzfeldt and the Kernels by engaging in as many basketball activities as possible is clear: constant improvement.

"It's extremely important because the summer is when you get better," Kreutzfeldt said. "It's a lot, but it's good. ... I think we have 10, 11 or 12 guys capable of playing varsity basketball and those guys will continue to prove themselves by other time we get to December. I've just been really happy with what I've seen."

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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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