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Kernel gymnastics prepares to peak at Class AA state meet

Feb. 6—MITCHELL — There's one attribute on the minds of the Mitchell High School gymnastics team preparing for the state competition on Friday.

It's all about confidence.

The Kernels head to Pierre for the Class AA state team meet on Friday and the individual competition on Saturday with the goal of defending their state title from 2023. To do so, they will need to fend off a field of Eastern South Dakota Conference rivals, led by a talented Harrisburg squad.

"I think we're ready for state, and I think we'll do great as a team as long as we're confident and we're mentally tough for whatever we might face at the state meet," MHS junior Keyana Kelley said. "We know we can trust our training."

MHS coach Audra Rew said the Kernels have had a lot of little hurdles in the season so far, including illnesses among the athletes, missed meets because of weather and not performing as well as they'd like at the Eastern South Dakota Conference meet.

The month of January was a tough one for the Kernels, mainly because they competed once in a three-week span in the heart of the season due to weather cancellations. Because of that, Rew said, the Kernels made practices tougher to make up for missed time in the competition arena.

"We wanted to create tough situations that they could overcome," she said. "Maybe that wasn't the right call, but you'd rather do that high-pressure situation before ESD rather than before state. We're hoping to be a little more relaxed about heading into the state meet."

In that time, Harrisburg has emerged as the chief rival and favorite to win its first Class AA state team gymnastics title. The Tigers have posted three scores above 149.000 this season, including a 149.300 head-to-head against the Kernels at the ESD championships on Jan. 27, while Mitchell logged its season-best score on Feb. 3 in Brookings at 148.850.

Mitchell and Harrisburg split the titles at the four meets both teams were at this season. MHS won meets at Pierre and in Mitchell in December, while Harrisburg took first place in Brookings on Jan. 6 and at the ESD meet in Watertown on Jan. 27.

"I think our hard work is going to pay off," MHS junior Bentley Bates said. "We've prepared, and we're going to leave it all out there when we compete. We know what we're capable of."

The Kernels are no strangers to what's required this time of year at the state competition. MHS has finished first or second in 10 consecutive state meets, including six championships in that time. Mitchell is pursuing its ninth Class AA state championship, all since 2007. Last season, MHS won by three-tenths of a point over second-place O'Gorman in Aberdeen for the Kernels' second title in three seasons.

The meet is at T.F. Riggs High School in Pierre for the first time in the 50-year history of the South Dakota High School Activities Association's state competition. The Class AA competition is at 3:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with the team competition first up.

"We know the mistakes we've made," Rew said. "We know what we need to fix. We need to relax and be ready to compete in Pierre. ... I say it every year that this is the most talented team I've had and they are. When you look at the highest score each gymnast has put out there this year and you add them all up, it would break every record for us."

At the state meet, Mitchell can have seven team members slotted for each event. Of those, five can compete on meet day, with the top-four scores counting for the team total. The Kernels will compete first on bars, followed by balance beam, floor exercise and close on vault. Mitchell's team day roster includes:

Vault: Keyana Kelley, Harley Goldammer, Sidney Malde, Bentley Bates, Aubrey Gelderman, Lainee Forst and Olivia Prunty.

Bars: Kelley, Goldammer, Bates, Prunty, McKenna Auch, Abby Helleloid and Kyanna Gropper

Beam: Kelley, Goldammer, Malde, Bates, Gelderman, Forst and Prunty.

Floor: Kelley, Goldammer, Malde, Bates, Gelderman, Prunty and Emerson Smith.