Marcus Traxler: Returning Mitchell Kernels' play at state tournament provides optimism

Marcus Traxler, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
·3 min read

Mar. 22—Love it or loathe it, the state basketball tournaments in South Dakota are three games guaranteed.

For the Mitchell Kernel basketball teams, three more games felt like a great reward for successful seasons, with 16 wins from each program. And after seeing both teams in action over the last two weekends, there are some positive takeaways for the future of the Kernel programs.

Both teams broke through with players who had never extensively played in the state tournament. That experience can be valuable for future Kernels, knowing the hard work it takes to get to the tournament and understanding how difficult winning at state is.

Sure, Mitchell would have liked to play in the semifinals and reach the championship game. But as the tournaments unfolded in Sioux Falls and in Rapid City, there were positive indicators about the up-and-coming pipeline of Kernel talent, particularly in the consolation games.

For example in the girls' fifth-place game against Harrisburg, there were some plays that seemed like a passing of the torch to next year's team. That included a couple of long offensive rebounds that bounced to the corner of the court, a signature Adaya Plastow play earlier in the season when the Kernels' dynamo guard would track those rebounds down. In the final game of the season, freshman Sawyer Stoebner made those plays, keeping the ball with the Kernels and extending possessions. Ending the season on a double-double — 10 points, 10 rebounds — is a great building block for a strong season from Stoebner.

Senior Camryn Krogman was the best Kernel guard when driving to the basket this season. But with the Kernels down five points in the final 30 seconds, sophomore Taylor Giblin took the ball hard to the basket and scored, drawing a foul and converting a key three-point play to keep the game alive for Mitchell.

Junior forward Mariyha Turner, who has already asserted herself as a strong interior defender, had some important rebounds and a blocked shot against one of the state's best interior players in Harrisburg's Emilee Boyer.

All three players will be important for the Kernels next year, along with guards Lizzie Tyler and Sarah Sebert, who also got extensive playing time during the season.

On the boys side, the importance of seniors Zane Alm, Ben Helleloid and Lucas Moller were on display throughout the weekend. MHS won't easily replace having the state's best shot blocker, Moller finishes his senior season as a 40-plus percent 3-point shooter and Helleloid had the ball in his hands a lot as the team's primary ball-handler.

With that said, sophomore Dylan Soulek had a successful tournament, shooting nearly 48% and adding in substansial rebounding and assists. Junior Gavyn Degen averaged 8.7 points over the three games in Rapid City, after averaging about 3 points per game leading up to the state tournament. Jonah Schmidt and Steele Morgan also got substantial minutes in the tournament, as well, and both are players with some size at 6-foot-4 or taller.

Add in that 6-foot-6 Caden Hinker will be back for his senior season in 2021-22 and the Kernel boys have a bright outlook. As likely Class AA's best player next year, Hinker will get a lot of defensive attention, as he did over three games in Rapid City, but he will also likely be better prepared next year for that type of defense. Who knows how Class AA will look like in 2021-22 but at this stage, a lot of the top finishing teams will have a lot to replace on their rosters from graduating seniors.

Without question, both Kernel teams have a lot to replace. For the boys team, it's nearly 45% of its scoring, while the girls have about two-thirds of its scoring this season to replace four seniors.

But after seeing the returning Kernels have some strong moments on the big stage in Class AA, optimism for the next basketball season — only about 260 days away — is already starting to increase.