With a knack for goals, Mia Mullenmeister leads Mitchell Kernel girls soccer into state tournament
Mullenmeister's 19 goals are tops among all South Dakota girls soccer players.
When it comes to scoring goals, few in South Dakota are in the same conversation as Mia Mullenmeister in 2021.
The sophomore forward for the Mitchell girls soccer team scored 19 goals during the regular season, which is tops in the state across both classes, according to the state's statistical database.
“Mia has a knack for finding the goal, and that’s something you really can’t teach,” said coach Bob Lemon. “I think what’s most impressive from our perspective as coaches is knowing that she’s so well marked. Everybody is very well aware of where she is on the field, and they’ve tried a number of different schemes to slow her down.”
But even when made the top priority by opposing defensive strategies, neutralizing Mullenmeister has stumped even some of the best teams in the state.
Mullenmeister has scored in every contest she’s appeared in this season, including in each of the Kernels’ first 10 games. She had five multi-goal outings, including a stretch of three straight between Sept. 11-16. The streak started with a four-goal outburst in a 10-0 win over Huron, followed by a hat trick in a 3-0 win over Sioux Falls Christian before netting two more goals in a 7-1 win over Yankton. Mitchell is undefeated in games where Mullenmeister scores multiple goals.
“I feel like I’ve always been able to find the back of the net,” Mullenmeister said. “… You have to take any chances you get. Sometimes you only get one chance in a game, so you have to learn to finish whatever you have in front of you.”
Though just a sophomore, Mullenmeister’s leadership is perhaps equally as important to the Kernels' success as her contributions on the scoreboard.
“Mia’s been a special player since she’s come into our program as a seventh-grader,” Lemon said. “Having her leadership on the field, she brings a certain calmness to the rest of the girls. In the games she was out, we got a little bit frazzled. When she’s out there, the players, by being more relaxed, are able to do some really nice things.”
A quadricep injury caused Mullenmeister to miss a pair of games in late September, but she returned to score a goal in the regular season finale at West Central and will be available for Mitchell’s first-round playoff game, according to Lemon.
In the opening round of the Class AA playoffs, No. 11-seeded Mitchell (5-7-1) will face off with No. 6 seed Rapid City Central (9-3-0) on Tuesday evening in Rapid City. The match is at 7 p.m. Central time.
“Any time you get to play extra soccer is a chance to learn from it," Lemon said. "It’s going to be a different atmosphere, when you’re playing to be able to move on and play in the next game, you have to win. Some of the girls haven’t faced a situation like that before.”
The Kernels and Cobblers did not play each other during the regular season, but Lemon points to Rapid City Central’s speed and set pieces as areas of strength.
Recent form is not in the Kernels’ favor heading into the playoffs. Mitchell won five of seven between Aug. 21 and Sept. 16, but stumbled down the stretch. The Kernels lost three games, albeit to the top two seeds in Class AA (Aberdeen Central and Brandon Valley) and the top seed in Class A (West Central), and drew one across its final four contests. Rapid City Central comes in having won three of its last four, with the lone loss coming to 5-seed Spearfish.
Experience could also play a factor in the matchup. Mitchell’s roster has just one senior and three juniors, meaning Lemon has featured seventh- and eighth-graders either in the starting lineup or in considerable roles off of the bench all season. The Cobblers' roster, meanwhile, boasts 14 seniors, but Lemon thinks his team, will be up to the challenge.
“Those girls have been tested by fire against high school players all season,” Lemon said. “The experience of playing in these types of games really helps them develop as players. They also have no fear at this point, so let’s just go out and play.”
The winner of Tuesday’s matchup will move on to face either No. 3 seed Sioux Falls Lincoln or No. 14 seed Sioux Falls Jefferson in the quarterfinals, which is set to be played Saturday, Oct. 9.