With two wins in the books, Kernels look to keep dismal Decembers in the past

Mitchell eyes a 4-0 start for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

Mitchell's Zane Alm shoots over Sioux Falls Lincoln's Cameron Jackson (31) during a game on Tuesday at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Mitchell High School has not had many happy Christmases in recent years.

But after a 2-0 start this season, the Kernels have a chance to avoid a dismal holiday when they square off with Rapid City Central (7 p.m.) and Rapid City Stevens (1:30 p.m.) in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, respectively, at the Corn Palace.

Coming into the season, Mitchell had lost 24 consecutive games in December, with its last win in the month coming against Rapid City Central in 2015. The Kernels have a chance to knock off both Rapid City schools for the first time in a season since 2014-2015, which was also the last time they started a season 4-0.

An uneven performance in a season-opening win over Huron was answered with a 57-45 win against Sioux Falls Lincoln on Tuesday and it appears Mitchell’s hopes of earning a pair of wins this weekend are not far-fetched.

“If we can go into Christmas break 4-0 that would be huge for the kids,” MHS head coach Todd Neuendorf said. “We know that Rapid City Central is a good team and it’s going to be a long season. … We have to keep things steady and keep climbing that hill. We have to keep plugging along and take them as they come.”


While little is certain two games into the season, Mitchell has proved that teams are going to have to win from the perimeter against a stingy defense. The Kernels held the Patriots to 28.8% shooting and have allowed 32.3% shooting through the first two outings.

Zane Alm and Caden Hinker have been menaces inside, as opponents are averaging 12 points in the paint per game on 28.6% shooting. At 6-foot-10, Alm has blocked six shots already and he has altered several more. His presence at the rim has forced teams to seek shots further from the hoop, with opponents taking 56.7% of shots outside the paint.

That defense will be tested against Central, which has won the last three meetings by an average of 20 points per game. The Cobblers boast Micah and Julian Swallow, along with 6-foot-6 Kohl Meisman, who helped propel Central to a 68-51 win last year.

“During practice, coaches got out the pads and we focused on going up with contact, finishing with contact — just being more physical in general,” Alm said. “We’ve really understood that we have to get more physical as a team.”

As good as the Mitchell defense has been thus far, the offense is continuing to improve. The Kernels are shooting 42.4% from the field and 29% from the 3-point line overall, but they put forth an efficient second half against Lincoln.

In the first half, Hinker accounted for 10 of the team’s 23 points. But in the second half, Alm and Ben Helleloid scored eight points apiece, while Gavyn Degen added seven. Mitchell shot 10 of 17 in the final 16 minutes, including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.

It may take more time for the offense to become consistently efficient, particularly with starter Dylan Soulek sidelined with an ankle injury against Lincoln. But in the second half, the Kernels looked more like the team that shot 47.5% in the final 15 games of last season rather than the team that shot 34.9% in the first six games, which included a 41-34 loss to Stevens.

“It’s going to take time because guys are playing new roles and playing with guys they haven’t played with,” Neuendorf said. “It’ll be something that gets better and better. If things don’t get better in the course of a game, we still have our sets. … Guys are starting to make plays and they’re getting comfortable with what they’re supposed to do.”

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