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Time off from game action gives Kernel boys ample chance to prepare for Class AA state tourney

Mitchell, like many Class AA teams, will have played one game in 19 days leading up to its quarterfinal matchup with Harrisburg.

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Mitchell head coach Ryker Kreutzfedlt draws up a play during a game against Rapid City Central on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at the Corn Palace.
Mitchell Republic file photo
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MITCHELL — Harrisburg may be the first opponent the Mitchell High School boys basketball team will face in the 2022 Class AA state basketball tournament, but one obstacle precedes the Tigers leading up to Thursday’s quarterfinal.

Like nearly all other Class AA boys programs, the Kernels will have played just one game — their SoDak 16 triumph over Rapid City Stevens on March 5 — in 19 days since wrapping up the regular season at O’Gorman on Feb. 25.

The Kernels’ longest such break during the regular season came nearly three months ago, when a Dec. 17 game at Brookings — the third game of the season before a holiday break — was Mitchell’s only contest for a 13-day span through mid- and late-December.

In Mitchell’s view, the pros of a nearly three-week stretch with a single night of game action far outweigh the cons leading into three tournament contests in three days, with the main benefit being ample time to prepare for a state quarterfinal tilt.

“Our guys like that time off because you can get so prepared,” said Mitchell coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt following the SoDak 16 victory. “We’re going to have a pretty good idea of everything they do and all their tendencies. We’ll have a complete scout just like we did [against Stevens], and that just provides confidence for our guys. They know what they’re getting themselves into, how to guard actions. It’s just about if you can execute down the stretch.”

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Mitchell head coach Ryker Kreutzfedlt celebrates from the bench during a game against Yankton on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, at the Corn Palace.
Republic file photo

Prior to Mitchell hosting Stevens in the SoDak 16, the Kernels used a week-long break that junior Dylan Soulek referred to as “probably the best week of practice all season” to correct many of the issues that tripped them up in the teams’ first meeting. After letting the Raiders get out to a fast start on Feb. 18, roles were reversed the second time around, as strong starts to both halves helped propel the Kernels into the state tournament.

“You have a whole week of practice and you can kind of overthink things a little bit but we came ready to go,” Soulek said. “... The intensity was there every day and that has to be there for another week and a half going into the state tournament.”

Senior Caden Hinker pointed out the abnormal amount of time to recover and get healthy as another obvious benefit. However, Hinker also noted the importance of trying to hold on to as much of the game rhythm created by playing eight games in 25 days during February by stringing together two weeks of top-notch practices before the state tournament.

Kreutzfeldt said his team would treat pre-tournament training the same way as the lead-up to the SoDak 16, which included a full slate of “hard” two-hour practices.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Mitchell senior Caden Hinker of the break prior to state tournament play. “You’re getting to rest and heal your body and a little bit of a break from game action, but you also have to make sure you’re staying focused and really lock in during practice so you’re ready for the biggest games of the year coming up.”

“You try not to overthink it,” Hinker continued. “You’ll have a bad practice or a bad day because you have dang near two weeks' worth of ‘em before your next game. We certainly try to make sure every day is better than the last, but you cant fret on the bad days.”

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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