Third-seeded Kernels 'right where we want to be' heading into Class AA boys basketball state tournament
“We felt like No. 3 was our spot all year,” said senior guard Dylan Soulek.
MITCHELL — Carrying the No. 3 seed in Class AA into the state tournament in Rapid City, the Mitchell High School boys basketball team feels it's right where it needs to be, where it deserves to be.
On the season, the Kernels own a 17-4 overall record and have won five games in a row — the second-longest active streak in the class — including eight of their last nine dating back to the beginning of February.
“We felt like No. 3 was our spot all year,” said senior guard Dylan Soulek. “Laying an egg to (Sioux Falls) Washington was good for us. We ended up winning out, which was huge to maintain that No. 3 spot, which was right where we want to be.”
So now the Kernels head west, to the Summit Arena in Rapid City for one of the most anticipated state tournaments in recent memory. All eight teams at the event have reasons to believe that they’ll be playing in the final game on Saturday night for a state championship, but of course, only two will make it that far.
As Mitchell continued to stack up wins, the Kernels’ goal hasn’t been to just participate among the final eight. Instead, it’s been to show that they’re the best of the bunch. As coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt said in mid-January: “We don't want to just be a contender. We want to finish the year as No. 1.”
Road to Rapid
Though the Kernels didn’t start the season in the state championship conversation, it didn’t take long for them to enter the picture.
Mitchell flashed its potential immediately, rolling to an 18-point win in Huron on opening night before going 19 days between games due to winter weather. In the return to the court, Mitchell rattled off a pair of wins over Wyoming opposition at the Hoop City Classic.
In January, the Kernels went 6-3, including wins over state tournament teams Yankton (the 4-seed) and Sioux Falls Roosevelt (7-seed). All three defeats came on the road against state opposition, at No. 1 Sioux Falls Jefferson, No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln and No. 9 Harrisburg.
February’s lone trip-up came against 5-seed Sioux Falls Washington at the Corn Palace, as Mitchell went 7-1 prior to its SoDak 16 victory over Watertown. During that run, the Kernels defeated its state quarterfinal opponent, 6-seed Pierre.
In the regular season finale, Mitchell defeated another top-eight team in Brandon Valley — the No. 8 Lynx were knocked off by Harrisburg for the last tournament spot — to finish 7-1 in Eastern South Dakota Conference action and claim the outright conference championship for the second-straight season.
“There were a lot of different ways it could’ve shaken out if we had dropped a couple down the stretch,” Kreutzfeldt said. “But our guys handled business and won the games they had to.”
Then, in the SoDak 16, Mitchell cruised past Watertown to qualify for a third-straight state tournament.
The Kernels are firmly entrenched as one of the top teams in Class AA, and they have confidence in their ability to make a run through a talented field of opposition.
“We’re all excited,” said senior forward Steele Morgan. “I feel like we can make a lot of noise at the state tournament, for sure.”