HURON -- Not only did Mitchell High School lose 11 seniors from last season’s volleyball team, but most of its opponents at Saturday’s Huron Invitational already had game experience.
For the Class AA No. 5 Kernels, however, the Huron Invitational was their 2019 debut and it was all about putting the right pieces together.
Mitchell went 1-3 in matches against Sturgis, Class AA No. 4 Watertown, Class AA No. 3 Sioux Falls O’Gorman and Brandon Valley, but head coach Deb Thill played 15 different players in at last two sets throughout the day, and for 14 of them, it marked their first true action at the varsity level.
“I thought we competed really hard,” Thill said. “Getting that first win against Sturgis was pretty big and then we competed really well with No. 3 and No. 4 in the state, so I was happy with the progress that we made throughout the day.”
The Kernels beat Sturgis, 25-20 and 28-26 to begin the tournament, but fell to Watertown in the next match, 25-18 and 25-19. Sioux Falls O’Gorman also best Mitchell, 25-18 and 25-13, while Brandon Valley scored a 25-17, 25-9 win to close the day.
Even though the Kernels lost three consecutive matches to end the tournament, Thill felt beginning the day with a win was a big confidence builder.
Mitchell recorded a five-point win against Sturgis in the first set and came back to win a back-and-forth second set by two points. Amy Uher had 10 kills and 12 digs and Katy Sebert had nine assists and five kills in the match.
“We opened with Sturgis and they had already played two matches,” Thill said. “They probably had more experience under their belt. Sturgis was a good team, but for us to come out and get that win was good for us.”
Uher led the team with 17 kills and 32 digs, while Sebert added 43 assists, 17 digs and 11 kills for the tournament.
Mitchell had a .163 hitting percentage in the four matches, but attacking had been on the backburner during preseason practice.
“All we’ve been working on during the last two weeks of practice are serve and pass,” Thill said. “You can’t do anything unless you can pass the ball. I kept telling the kids not to worry about offense. We didn’t have a lot of hitting errors, we just aren’t overpowering with any strength yet.”
While it was the first competition of the season, Thill saw enough from her team to believe they can continue to improve and become even more competitive with the top teams in the state.
“The more we play, we’re going to close that gap between the top teams and us,” Thill said. “This team plays with a lot of heart and a lot of hustle. Those are things you can’t really coach, so we’re excited to see that.”
Mitchell travels to Pierre at 7 p.m. today.