Mia Mullenmeister doesn’t demand the spotlight, even if her play does.
The soft-spoken eighth-grader deflects questions about her goal scoring and record-breaking season to praise her teammates.
There’s no denying her evident talent, though, which has caused opposing teams fits before she even steps foot in the Mitchell High School hallways. Mullenmeister might still be in middle school, but she said she doesn’t feel like an eighth grader when she steps on the pitch for the Mitchell High School girls soccer team.
She doesn’t play like one either.
“Mia’s got a lot of talent,” MHS coach Bob Lemon said. “... She’s one of those players that has developed that talent of learning to recognize where the goalies are and when to hit the ball. She hits a true ball and hits it very consistently.”
As she hits balls past goalies, the forward keeps a tally in her head. So far, she has 30 tally marks in her career. And no Kernel has ever had more than her in a single season.
During her final year in middle school, she’s already scored more -- fittingly her favorite part of soccer -- than any other Kernel, netting a program-record 18 goals. The record-breaker came during a first-half hat trick at Huron on Sept. 26.
“I tried to stay calm, but inside I was freaking out knowing that I just broke a record,” Mullenmeister said. “I owe it to all my teammates who have played that ball to me.”
None of it surprises Lemon, though. Not after leading the team with 12 goals as a seventh-grader and earning all-Eastern South Dakota Conference honorable mention. Or the fact the self-motivator -- as her father and Mitchell assistant coach, Scott, describes her -- is pushed to improve by “everything.”
It helps that Mullenmeister is bigger and stronger, allowing her to stay upright and not be pushed off the ball. She also received a confidence boost and improved as an attacker over the summer while playing with her club team, the Dakota Alliance in Sioux Falls. It won the President’s Cup National Championship in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, over the summer.
“My teammates and I were so excited, but I feel that has made me more confident coming into high school now,” Mullenmeister said. “... I’ve learned to be a team player, but also when to take shots and take it on my own.”
Mullenmeister can take over a match for the Kernels, but the goal-scoring ability which has pushed her into uncharted territory is far from her only skill.
It might not even be her best.
“I think (her understanding of the game) is her biggest testimony that -- she scores a lot of goals and she puts herself in those positions to take over a game if she has to,” Lemon said. “But really her strength is she really does make her teammates that much better. They work hard and they get her the ball when they’re open. She’s a special player that way.”
Her teammates have created plenty of opportunities for her during Mitchell’s 8-3-1 season, which puts them seventh in Class AA seed points.
“I definitely would like to win a state championship,” Mullenmeister said. “But there’s also (Mitchell’s) all-time goals scored (record of) 60 goals. That would be pretty cool to beat that record, as well.”
Mullenmeister already has half of those tally marks with four more seasons and Mitchell’s regular-season finale at 4 p.m. today at Joe Quintal Field against Aberdeen Central remaining. The Kernels will also play in the first round of the Class AA state playoffs on Oct. 8.
But if you ask her or Scott, the reason she’s at the midway point and scored 54.5 percent of Mitchell’s goals this year is due to her teammates.
“She’s been fortunate to play on some good teams and had supportive teammates that know how to feed her the ball, and she feeds them the ball,” Scott Mullenmeister said. “Over the years when you have a lot of opportunities, you tend to get better at scoring goals, and she’s been able to lock in her skills that way.”