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Analysis: Kernel girls basketball posts strong start to the year

Jan. 2—MITCHELL — All it took was one game a year ago, and the Mitchell High School girls basketball team has been riding the momentum ever since.

Following the Kernels' upset victory in last year's SoDak 16 against Brandon Valley, Mitchell has begun the season by winning its first six contests. Highlights of the year so far include a comeback win against Huron on opening night and Addie Siemsen tying the Hoop City Classic scoring record with a 30-point effort on Saturday against Campbell County (Wyo.).

Throughout the early portion of the calendar, the Kernel girls have relied on each other's strengths, and most importantly, have worked together to obtain the best results for the team.

"We talk about playing and the girls talk about being efficient," Kernels head coach Dave Brooks said. "They're as happy about making a good assist as they are making a basket. And that's what it's gonna take for us to succeed."

Brooks and his team have created an atmosphere where there isn't just one player to look for when trying to score points on the offensive end. On a statistical standpoint, Sawyer Stoebner leads the Kernels, but she never tries to be the hero on the floor, often going to teammates as opponents are quick to deploy double teams on her.

Players such as Siemsen, Lauren Van Overschelde, and Carsyn Weich have each had opportunities to make big plays. Whether a clutch three is made or someone draws a big foul, Mitchell's ball movement has allowed others to shine and to give them practice in moments where the game is on the line.

Through those efforts, the Mitchell girls have put themselves in a position to succeed each time the Kernels take to the floor. It's through their selflessness during the game that allows the team to not focus on themselves.

"We don't take stupid shots when we play more as a team than as individuals," Addie Siemsen said. "We know when to take smart shots and we know when to speed up and slow down (our tempo). When we do that, we can play really good games."

The Kernel girls also know when to turn up their level of aggression, specifically on the offensive glass, an important part of their success so far. VanOverschelde had five offensive rebounds against Campbell County on Dec. 30. She's listed at 5-foot-5. Stoebner, who posted a double-double against Thunder Basin on Dec. 29, is 5-foot-9, continuing her reputation as one of the state's best rebounders.

Allison Meyerink is the only player listed on the Kernels who is taller than 5-foot-9. But what the Kernels lack in height, they make up for in aggressiveness and effort displayed in order to keep control of the ball.

"Rebounding is work," Brooks said. "And having the ability of knowing where it's gonna come off the rim. We talk about it and it's on the board every game for our keys to the game. We hit the boards hard during the games and we have to work at it because we're small."

Mitchell also further channels its aggression with its transition play, at times an Achilles heel for the Kernels due to the team's tendency to play fast. While it does lead to some miscommunication between the players and a pass flying over a player's head, it never allows an opponent to get set on defense.

It also creates holes for the Kernel girls to feed post players, usually Meyerink underneath with easy layups.

"We have some athletic kids, so we kind of loosened the reins a little bit," Brooks said. "You got to live with sometimes (a ball) might end up in the third row, but we know we have to transition, but it's a process and hopefully we'll continue to improve that."

Finally, the Kernel girls have improved on playing shell defense, out of the norm of what the team's used to play mainly in a 2-3 zone. It'll be the one aspect of the game the Kernels must continue to work on in order to sustain their strong start to the season.

Mitchell's first six opponents have a combined record of 19-25 and none of the four South Dakota teams the Kernels have beaten have winning records, so the second half of the season promises more tough matchups.

But there's no arguing with winning basketball, which is what the Kernels played in the first month of the season. MHS hosts Yankton on Friday at the Corn Palace in a bid to get to 7-0.

"We'll continue to work hard because there's still room for improvement," Brooks said. "We got to get ready for these ESD school coming to town and we know it's going to be a battle, and hopefully we can be ready for that."