The Kernels have been building the past few years, but this could be their breakout campaign.

Fresh off a 4-9-1 season and first-round loss in the Class AA state playoffs as the No. 16 seed, Mitchell girls soccer coach Bob Lemon doesn’t want to just squeak into the playoffs again. He wants to shoot up the standings and become a serious threat in Eastern South Dakota Conference play.

“We’d like to move up, move up in the ESD,” Lemon said. “If we can move up and surprise some people -- I don’t think we’ll surprise anybody because I think they’ve been watching us, saying, ‘Mitchell is a team that’s coming.’ We’d like to say this is a year we’d like to make a move.”

Lemon will lean on a veteran squad, which has a large core of juniors alongside seniors Emma Hohn and Seemela Novak. That includes the now-healthy Macy Kempf, who was an all-ESD selection in 2017, Grace Endorf and Marianna Novak.

Although, mixed in with the Kernels’ experienced group is eighth-grader Mia Mullenmeister, who led the team in goals last season.

“Seeing the way they’ve worked together and putting some combinations together is really encouraging,” Lemon said. “We feel we’re ahead of where we were last year with the soccer knowledge and how we’re able to move the ball from one side to the other.”

Building a cohesiveness between its core could turn Mitchell’s weakness -- lack of possession -- into its strength. It’s focused on learning to handle defensive pressure to win the time of possession battle, rather than kicking it downfield.

In turn, it could lead to more goals for a team which played top-seed Pierre tough in last year’s playoffs, though fell 2-0 as it couldn’t find the back of the net.

“We’ve spent a lot of time playing defense the last few years and I think we’re tired playing a lot of defense,” Lemon said. “We’d like to put the shoe on the other foot and make the other teams play defense and chase us. That’s really going to be key, but we have to be smart to be able to play.”

Being able to consistently score would help Caroline Titze, who Lemon touts as one of the best goalkeepers in the state.

“She’s such a leader in the back, directs and we really have a real sense of balance,” Lemon said.

The Kernels open the season with their first three games at Joe Quintal Field, with Lemon hoping to “set the tone” for the rest of the season. They kick-off at at 4 p.m. today against Sturgis.

“To be able to come out and play as hard as we can, I think it will set the tone for the whole year,” Lemon said. “We have two games this weekend that are very good possibilities for wins. I think the girls are hungry to play somebody else.”