Analysis: Three keys for Mitchell girls' success at Class AA state tournament

Mar. 6—MITCHELL — The dream season for the Mitchell High School girls basketball team is now three games from its conclusion.

Having proven throughout the year there are multiple ways to win close contests, the Kernels will look to do more of the same, as they square off against Harrisburg in the Class AA quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Thursday in Sioux Falls.

Knowing the environment of the Pentagon brings a different demeanor to tournament basketball, here's three areas that'll prove critical to the Kernels' success at state.

Unlike their position in the tournament last year, scoring hasn't been an issue for the Kernels during their run.

Mitchell sits in the middle of the pack in scoring, as its average of 52.8 points per game ranks fourth among state qualifiers. Providing a boost to the point totals is the long-range attack, as the Kernels have shot 31.5% from the 3-point line this season sitting only behind Thursday opponent Harrisburg (32%) and Pierre (35.4%).

Over their last six games however, the Kernels have seen a slight dip in their perimeter shooting prowess, only going 29.4% behind the arc.

But some of the struggles from distance haven't come from forced shots either.

"We've seen them make the shots before," Kernels head coach Dave Brooks said. "The mentality has been, 'if you're a shooter and you miss this one, you have to think you're going to make the next one.' You have to have confidence."

Wanting the players to build confidence in making shots, Brooks instructed the Kernels to pick a spot during warmups to shoot, with the hope they build confidence seeing the ball go through the net. It also gives the players the encouragement to take a shot when put in the right spot.

"If you don't take an open shot, then you don't know if it could've gone in," Addie Siemsen said. "Even if you miss the first one, you think the next one is going to go in. I just keep shooting or try to make it up on defense."

The Kernels target anywhere from 35-40% shooting for a game, and all five of the team's starters have shot at least 40% from the field on the year. Siemsen, Sawyer Stoebner, and Lauren Van Overschelde also lead the team in 3-point shooting, and will be the catalysts for Mitchell's long-range attack.

Mitchell is not a physically big squad, as only two players in its main rotation of seven are listed 5-foot-9 or taller.

It doesn't deter them from getting involved underneath and snagging rebounds.

The Kernels have relied on their positioning and athleticism to mainly grab boards throughout the season, posting an average of 24.8 rebounds per game. Only Pierre and Spearfish have lower rebounding averages out of the state qualifiers, while Sioux Falls Jefferson is one of three state teams to average north of 30 rebounds per game.

Their positioning plays a key role on the defensive end, proving vital in getting back to the other end of the floor before opposing teams do.

"If we can get that position (defensively)," Allison Meyerink explained, "we can transition (to offense) quickly because we know where everyone is on the court. We can get the ball and go."

Mitchell has also shown it can hang tough against the more imposing teams in the class, out rebounding Jefferson 29-13 in the Kernels' victory on Jan. 30. They also defeated Brandon Valley on Feb. 20 despite being on the other side of the rebounding battle.

Stoebner (7.4 rebounds per game) and Meyerink (3.8) are 1-2 in team rebounding for Mitchell, while Siemsen (3.0), Van Overschelde (3.4), and Carsyn Weich (3.5) have also posted solid seasons on the glass. While being in position to grab them has been beneficial, the bulk of the Kernels' boards comes from the players showing strong determination to track them down.

"Rebounding is work," Brooks said. "For the most part, you have to go get them ... part of the way our offense is (our guards) end up underneath the basket, and more often than not, they come out with the rebound. If we can be within 2 or 3 rebounds of the opposing team, that's a win for us."

A big point discussed over the course of the season has been the Kernels instinctively making plays in pressure situations.

Last year's group during Mitchell's surprise run to the state tournament largely remained intact this year, and the chemistry displayed during each game is evident. Brooks sometimes will step back in those key moments and allow the players to execute the big play themselves.

"That comes from putting extra time in during practice," Van Overschelde said. "Also, it comes from working hard in practice. We know where everyone is on the floor, and our chemistry has gotten better over the season."

Owing to the trust everyone on the Kernels has for one another, Brooks will simply tell his players to "go out there and make plays" in certain situations. The players are also reminded before each game to not overthink and use their own strengths to contribute overall to the team.

"They know it takes everybody for us to get something done," Brooks said. "The kids have been unselfish all year and they know and trust each other, and that's a big thing leading to their success."