Before the season, the Mitchell High School girls soccer team set a goal to host a state playoff game.
The Kernels welcome Sioux Falls Roosevelt at 6 p.m. today to Joe Quintal Field, marking the first home playoff game in program history in a season of firsts. Mitchell (8-4-1) had its first winning season to nab the No. 7 seed in Class AA, which came a year after it sneaked into its first state playoff as the 16th seed.
“(Hosting) is really an indication of how successful the season has gone,” Mitchell coach Bob Lemon said.
Mitchell’s ascension has been the product of consistent play across the field. Mia Mullenmeister scored a program-record 18 goals, Grace Endorf and Macy Kempf returned to the team after missing last season and Marianna Novak has played multiple positions while doubling as a team leader.
Defensively, goalie Caroline Titze has been the team’s “anchor,” helping the Kernels notch five clean sheets and allow one goal in five matches. They have only allowed three goals twice this season.
“(Titze) is able to communicate to our defenders where they need to go and what they need to do,” Lemon said. “... The girls are comfortable using her as an option, so they can drop the ball if they have to and feel comfortable she’s able to handle and clear the ball when they need to. I’d take her over any goalkeeper in the state.”
That’s carried Mitchell into the playoffs with momentum and confidence, despite dropping its final match of the regular season to Aberdeen Central. It closed the year 6-2-1, though played a schedule which didn’t feature the 10th-seeded Rough Riders (6-3-2).
While there’s unfamiliarity between the two sides, Lemon noted the importance of neutralizing Roosevelt’s midfield and taking advantage of scoring chances against its strong defense.
“I think going into a game against a team you’ve never played is a fun way to play a playoff game,” Lemon said. “It has a really fun atmosphere and being able to play someone else is advantageous.”
The winner faces the winner of No. 2 Aberdeen Central vs. No. 15 Harrisburg on Saturday. The higher seed hosts through the semifinals, with the championship match at 5 p.m. on Oct. 19 in Harrisburg.
“I think there’s the excitement of playing in front of your family and friends,” Lemon said. “That would give some motivation to us. To be able to play in front of a home crowd is something that all of the players would dream about. The highlight of the playoffs is to play at home.”
Kernel boys travel to Sioux Falls
The No. 16 seed Kernel boys play top-seeded Sioux Falls Washington at 5 p.m. today at Howard Wood Field. Mitchell finished the season 2-10-1 with wins over Douglas/Rapid City Christian and Harrisburg.
The winner faces the winner of Huron vs. Sioux Falls Lincoln on Saturday. The championship match is at 7 p.m. on Oct. 19 in Harrisburg.