Jan. 24—MITCHELL — Not being the biggest player on the court hasn't seemed to matter much for Sawyer Stoebner this season.
Since the start of Mitchell's season, the junior has been a consistent force rebounding the ball.
She's compiled impressive numbers throughout Mitchell's first eight games of the season, racking up six double-doubles, including a stretch of five in a row. At the Hoop City Classic, she pulled down a season-high 20 rebounds against Campbell County (Wyo.), just three short of Mitchell girls basketball's school record.
So how, at 5-foot-9, is Stoebner able to rebound the ball so effectively?
For her, it's a multitude of different things, but it all starts with hustle.
"I think it's all about effort," Stoebner said. "I think that's the thing you can't really coach, going after them and chasing after them."
On top of effort, Stoebner laughed as she mentioned she "got gifted with some long arms and big hands," and her hands are big enough, and strong enough, to palm a basketball.
But there's more that goes into her 11.9 rebounds per game than just effort and size.
For one, her basketball knowledge helps her to get into the right position to have a chance to pull down a rebound. Knowing if it's a long shot it's more likely to be a long rebound or when to go to the backside of the hoop, and understanding where to be and when to be there.
"Some kids have that knack to know where the ball might go," head coach Dave Brooks said.
Of course, her athleticism certainly helps, too. Though she couldn't pin an exact number, she said her standing vertical jump is somewhere around 21 to 22 inches. She works on that a lot during the spring and summer before she starts volleyball up again, doing some box jumps, cleans and different jumping and agility drills to work on her vertical.
Her athleticism was credited in 2021, when she broke the MHS record for volleyball blocks in a match with nine
She also plays in the Pentagon Power (formerly the South Dakota Attack) program during the summer, where she got the chance to practice against and work with bigger players, such as Tea Area's Katie Vasecka, who's committed to play basketball at South Dakota State. Stoebner also said she had a different role on that team as opposed to her role with Mitchell, which helped her in the long run.
"With my summer team, I didn't really have a big offensive role, so I took a lot of pride in rebounding," Stoebner said. "I feel like (rebounding) kind of just came natural this season."
It's become almost instinctual to her. When the shot goes up, it's more natural than anything as she thinks, "Go get it."
Even though she's bringing the ball up on offense most of the time as the point guard like she did last year, her rebounding has increased by over two rebounds a game, and her emergence on the glass has been a vital one for the Kernels, who Brooks noted before the season were an undersized team.
The challenge of rebounding will likely get tougher as the season goes along, as Mitchell's schedule ramps up with teams that have bigger players. Stoebner acknowledged that when she goes up against the bigger girls, too, the fundamentals, such as boxing out, will become more important since outjumping them sometimes isn't possible.
But even when there has been bigger competition, Stoebner has still managed to pull down board after board for the Kernels.
"If there's a scrum and they're going up, it seems like she always comes down with two hands on it — not just one hand and tip it — she goes up and grabs it," Brooks said.
The rebounding has come hand in hand with a solid offensive season. Going into their game with Harrisburg, Stoebner averages a double-double and leads the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game. But if there's a night where the offense isn't coming like it usually does from her, the rebounds certainly have.
"If I'm not scoring, if my shots aren't falling, I just go get the ball," Stoebner said. "It'll help our team in one way or another."