Cohesive Kernel volleyball team looks to compete for more in 2023

Aug. 23—MITCHELL — The gym is loud with players talking, the shoes are squeaking and volleyballs are flying over the net.

Those are some good indicators for coach Deb Thill about the Mitchell High School volleyball team having a team that can communicate and play well with each other, while exhibiting their talents as well.

"This group of girls is very athletic," Thill said. "They bring a lot of really strong skills to the floor and we can have them on the court at the same time, and we have more on the bench. I like how they talk to each other on the court and they communicate, and they're good friends with each other on and off the court."

Mitchell volleyball has nine returning letterwinners on their squad for 2023. Sawyer Stoebner is the team's leading returning hitter, after she posted 125 kills last season. Also back is Lauren Van Overschelde as a junior, seniors Halle Haring and Tianna Meadows and sophomore Addie Siemsen moves into a hitting role this year as a right-side hitter. Stoebner, Haring and Meadows will likely lead the team in blocks, while senior Paige Guthmiller is the team's leading dig player from last year with 267 to her name. Ava Brannan is back as a junior with 245 in 202 and Stoebner had 143.

"We think we're very athletic in the back row," the coach said. "We've got some good blockers, but we're not the tallest team. With the kind of defense we play, we think we can combat that and make some plays."

Guthmiller, Haring, Meadows and Stoebner are joined by Hope Flippin and Elyssa Delehant as the team's six seniors.

"They've all improved, they're all one year older, one year better," Thill said.

Mitchell's roster will include five sophomores and all of them are expected to get some playing time, Thill said. In addition to Siemsen, setter Kenna Soulek, outside hitter Audrey Miller, middle hitter Kambyl Wede and defensive specialist Emma Hegg are all expected to make contributions.

Mitchell once again has a front-loaded schedule, with nine matches in the first 15 days of the season, including four best-of-three matches at the Huron Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 26. The Kernels have tried to emphasize conditioning to prepare for the strenuous early weeks of the season. MHS is used to hot conditions in August, practicing in its infamously non-air-conditioned home gym, which has meant they've had to move practices to the Corn Palace during August's most sweltering stretches.

"We have a few weeks with Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday (matches) the first few weeks of the season," Thill said. "We slow down in October when we probably could afford to play more. We are going to have a big test with how often we are playing early in the year."

The Kernels were 7-17 in 2022 and lost in the SoDak 16 as a No. 14 seed to eventual state champion Harrisburg. Thill expects the Tigers to be the favorite again in the Eastern South Dakota Conference, while noting Watertown and Pierre as other potential teams to watch.

Like last year's squad, Thill said the Kernels will have to learn to do the little things necessary to win tough games but she believes her team is capable of doing so.

"We've got to learn to win and compete to win, and sometimes that's hard to do," she said. "We have a lot of kids on this team that play to win. ... We will have challenging matches but there's a lot to be said for heart and desire and attitude and effort."