'Fiery' personality on display with Dylan Soulek as Kernels' emotional leader

Mar. 14—MITCHELL — No matter the viewpoint — whether watching from a courtside seat or through a screen from hundreds of miles away — it's equally easy to see Dylan Soulek's passion on the basketball court.

Made shot or turnover, no-look assist or foul, a visceral reaction is almost always sure to follow. The Mitchell senior wants to win. Badly.

"To keep it short and sweet, I just want it more. I want it more than anyone else," Soulek said. "I almost take everything personally in a way, and I care. I care a lot, and I just do what it takes to win."

According to Mitchell head coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt, Soulek's intense emotion could be misconstrued by spectators as a form of showboating. But when someone possesses that much competitive energy, it has to go somewhere.

"Dylan is a fiery guy, and he's not afraid to let his voice be heard, that's for sure," Kreutzfeldt said. "But that's who Dylan is. That's why he's been so successful and that's why when he speaks, people follow him. He's a great leader, and that all comes from his competitive nature."

However, there was a time when Soulek's passion wasn't always viewed as an asset. When Soulek was in middle school, Kreutzfeldt remembers "he was not someone we were looking forward to dealing with for four years."

Soulek, who's committed to play college baseball at Northern State in Aberdeen, made the varsity roster as a freshman, and though his evolution was far from immediate, it set him down a path that has allowed him to mature into a completely different type of teammate. And even as Soulek has established himself as one of the best players in Class AA, Kreutzfeldt still lauds Soulek's attitude, coachability and leadership as the areas where he has improved the most.

"I was definitely a little bit of a hothead, that's for sure," Soulek admitted. "But now I know what it takes to be a good leader.

"You've got to fill everyone's cup up differently," he continued. "You just have to learn and know what people need and what people don't need. That's the biggest thing."

Sure, Soulek wants to win, but he wants those around him to win, too. Never was this more evident than Mitchell's home regular-season finale, when Soulek gave up his starting spot on Senior Night so that one of his fellow seniors could get their moment in the spotlight.

That evening, off the bench, Soulek scored 17 points, including the game-winning shot with under five seconds to play. Barely 24 hours later, Soulek posted his career-high with 25 points as Mitchell defeated Brandon Valley for the outright Eastern South Dakota Conference title.

"Dylan cares about his teammates a lot, which doesn't always show in a game because it's competitive," Kreutzfeldt said. "I always say that nobody's yelled at me more than Dylan Soulek, that's just who he is. He has a rough exterior but when it comes down to it, though, he's a softy."

Soulek's recent form is an added bonus for Mitchell heading into the state tournament. According to Kreutzfeldt, the 6-foot-3 guard is playing the best basketball of his career leading into his final three games as a Kernel.

Though considered more of a driver and playmaker, Soulek has recently settled into a rhythm from behind the 3-point arc. After making three or more 3-pointers once in the Kernels' first 17 games (and once over his first three varsity seasons), he's done it in four straight games at a 45.5% clip.

Over those four games, he's scored 19 points per game, and during his 25-point outing against Brandon Valley, Soulek splashed in five 3s, matching a career-high from last season, also against the Lynx.

"I've always joked with all the coaches saying that I need to get some more shots and they need to be cool with me shooting," Soulek said through a wide grin. "I've been open, so I've just been shooting and feeling really confident about it."

Kreutzfeldt believes that Soulek was a snub from the all-ESD team last season as a junior. This season, Soulek earned all-ESD honors for the first time, and now Kreutzfeldt hopes all-state recognition will follow.

For the season, Soulek leads Mitchell in scoring (13.2 points per game) and assists (4.4) and is third in rebounding (4.8), up from 11.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and three assists per game as a junior.

"Right now, he's playing the best basketball he's ever played," Kreutzfeldt said, noting Soulek also draws the defensive assignment on the opposing team's best player almost every night and excels on that end of the floor, too. "He's had some games where didn't play so well, and he shouldered the blame for that, but when he's played well, he's an all-stater.

"When he's making shots like he is, he's just impossible to guard because his thing is getting to the rim," Kreutzfeldt added. "... He's playing well because he's such a good leader and he's understanding what it means to lead and how he has to act and play. He doesn't get to have an off night. There's no doubt he's playing as well and with as much confidence as he ever has."