Kernels' 2022-23 season to be remembered for putting program 'back on the map' through selflessness
"You don't need an all-star. You don't need a 7-footer," said senior Dylan Soulek. "You can have whoever you want on the court as long as you're a team."
MITCHELL — During a season defined by excellence the program hadn’t reached in more than a decade, the 2022-23 Mitchell Kernels boys basketball team epitomized the word ‘team’ every step of the way.
While a Class AA state runner-up finish, 19-5 record and second-straight outright Eastern South Dakota Conference title are the headline accomplishments, it’s how and why Mitchell was in a position to challenge for the state title that the Kernels wish to leave as a lasting legacy.
“I hope people remember what can happen when there's no selfishness and everybody is bought into whatever our goal is,” said Mitchell head coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt.
“I hope they remember the way we play, the way that we hold ourselves accountable, and the way we represented ourselves, each other and the community,” added senior Dylan Soulek. “You don't need an all-star. You don't need a 7-footer. You can have whoever you want on the court as long as you're a team.”
No other program in Class AA had the same depth of contributors as Mitchell, with each member of the typical seven-man rotation chipping in at least five points per night for an offense that finished fourth in the class at 62.1 points per game. All seven rose to the occasion on the other side of the ball, as well, posting the fifth-best defensive mark in the class at 52.4 points allowed per game. The only other program to finish in the top five of both was Yankton.
Another common thread through the season was the Kernels proving doubters wrong. But on the flip side, they were also able to prove themselves right, which made the experience that much sweeter.
“Within ourselves, we knew we would be pretty solid, but we just kept building throughout the year,” Soulek said. “At the end of the day, it was like ‘Holy cow, we’re playing for a state title. And it’s so incredibly cool to be able to say that.”
“These guys love this,” said senior Charlie McCardle. “People thought we weren't going to be anywhere at all this year. They said we weren't going to make the state tournament, but look at us; we ran all the way to the state title game.”
It wasn’t just the three days of tournament play in Rapid City, either.
From a seven-player senior class to the three regular non-senior contributors — junior Gavin Soukup, sophomore Markus Talley and freshman Colton Smith — tasked with carrying on the tradition, Mitchell had many players meet the challenge throughout the season. One simple illustration: Across 24 games, the Kernels had six different players lead the team in scoring at least once, and in the state tournament, six reached double figures at least once.
By every measure, it was the Kernels’ most successful season since 2011-12, prompting many — from activities director Cory Aadland to Kreutzfeldt to the players that spurred the revival — to feel like Mitchell basketball is back.
“I just feel really thankful to have gotten to coach such a unique and cool group of kids that soared to heights higher than even their biggest fans probably thought,” Kreutzfeldt said. “They kicked down so many walls throughout the year, and they have put the program back on the map.”