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Kernels girls starting to find identity at season's midpoint

Three of the last four games for Mitchell have been decided by four points or less.

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Mitchell's Sawyer Stoebner grabs a rebound in the final seconds during a game against Pierre on Friday, January 14, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Matt Gade/Mitchell Republic

The Mitchell High School girls basketball team continues to grow more comfortable in its new roles as the season has wore on.

After that 26-point opening season loss to Huron on Dec. 11, Mitchell went back to the drawing board to reassess what roles each player has on the team. So while the Kernels are 2-6, they have played more close games and have grown quickly as a team.

In the lineup, leading scorer Sawyer Stoebner is the point guard and she keeps everything intact for the Kernels when she’s on the floor. In her first season manning the offense, Stoebner had 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine steals in Mitchell’s first win of the season. She had a career-high first half of 21 points in that contest and fouled out with 4:56 remaining in the fourth quarter. In Mitchell’s most recent win over Pierre, Stoebner had a season-high seven assists.

“I think we’re getting better as a team every game and that’s the progression you hope to see throughout the year,” Mitchell head coach Cole Knippling said. “Sawyer at the point guard spot has definitely been scoring for herself and is now finding those opportunities where she draws all that attention and then makes that next pass.”

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Mitchell Head Coach Cole Knippling listens to Mitchell's Sawyer Stoebner ask a question during a free throw attempt during a game against Pierre on Friday, January 14, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Matt Gade/Mitchell Republic

Senior Sarah Sebert and junior Taylor Giblin are the primary wings. Their roles have increased exponentially since last season and they’re both relied upon to help Stoebner with the scoring load. Giblin has scored at least 10 points two of the last three games while Sebert notched four 3-pointers to help her reach 20 points in the Kernels rematch against Huron on Jan. 11. Giblin and Sebert have also combined to hit 13 of Mitchell’s 15 3-pointers in the new calendar year.

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“Giblin and Sebert are our shooting wings that need to score a little bit more, but they’re starting to find their rhythm,” Knippling said. “We need that shooting no matter what’s going on in the game and we’re pushing them both to keep working to find shots. … We really have to look for opportunities. We can’t wait for them to come to us because that’s where you get that inconsistency.”

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Mitchell's Taylor Giblin dribbles off the screen as Pierre's Lennix DuPris (10) gives chase during a game on Friday, January 14, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Matt Gade/Mitchell Republic

The other two starters are guard Aliyah Howard and forward Kaitlyn Christensen. While Howard has missed the last two games due to COVID-19 protocols, freshman Lauren Van Overschelde has stepped up and helped the Kernels remain on track.

“We’ve been able to stay healthy, which is good because we’re not super deep,” Knippling said. “The two times Aliyah has missed due to illness, Lauren has stepped right in and played really well in those two games. It's a nice thing to have girls on the team who can step in and help out.”

Van Overschelde is the third leading scorer for the Kernels this season. She’s had two games where she’s led the team in scoring, 16 against Brookings and 10 in the most recent win for Mitchell against Pierre. Knippling said the biggest contributor to Van Overschelde’s play on the court this year has been her lack of fear.

“One thing Lauren came in the door with was she didn’t have any fear,” Knippling said. “She was immediately willing to take those shots and go right at people. … She likes to play the game, she likes to be aggressive offensively and I really like her aggressiveness on defense. Her and Addie Siemsen really create some havoc up front in the 2-2-1 press. They really work well together.”

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Mitchell's Lauren Van Overschelde goes to the basket as Pierre's Lennix DuPris (10) defends during a game on Friday, January 14, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Matt Gade/Mitchell Republic

While eighth-grader Siemsen and freshman Van Overschelde harass opponents on the perimeter, team’s have to get by them and then meet 6-foot forward Christensen at the rim. Christensen is coming off one of her better performances of the season, eight points and four rebounds on 4-for-5 shooting.

“We’re really heading into the brunt of our schedule where we start to see the top half of the Class AA schools and we really have to be playing some good basketball,” Knippling said. “We’re going to start seeing some really good bigs. We all have to work to help get Kaitlyn more involved in the offense and defensively ... but she’s getting better in every game we’ve played.”

Mitchell is entering a critical part of the schedule to pick up some wins, starting with a Jan. 21 game against Sturgis and Jan. 22 against Spearfish.

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Both Sturgis and Spearfish have sub-.500 records and the next five opponents have combined records of 14-29. That's before Mitchell plays each of the top-5 ranked teams in Class AA to close the season, with those five teams holding a combined record of 35-5.

As of Monday, Mitchell stands 17th in Class AA seed points, outside of the top-16 that qualifies for the SoDak 16, and will play No. 16 Spearfish and No. 19 Sturgis this week.

Branden is a sports reporter that graduated from Purdue University Northwest with a bachelor's degree in communications and a focus in journalism. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 and covers prep and collegiate athletics. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Full-Court Press, providing a weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball throughout all of South Dakota. Branden can be reached at bhull@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @bhullreports.
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