Precise preparation aids Mitchell boys basketball's pursuit of Class AA state championship

Mar. 15—MITCHELL — If it's anytime before 4 a.m. at the Class AA boys basketball tournament, odds are the Mitchell High School coaching staff is awake and hard at work.

After all, with a state championship up for grabs, there's plenty of scouting and scheming to be done and hardly enough time to do it.

But while the Kernel coaches don't always go to the extremes of pulling an all-nighter, meticulous preparation is hardly a practice reserved for postseason play.

Because though Mitchell has an argument to be the most talented squad in Class AA, head coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt and his coaching staff strive to ensure the Kernels are also the most prepared.

During his time as an assistant under former head coach Todd Neuendorf, Kreutzfeldt carved out a prominent role on the MHS staff by helping create scouting reports on the opposition.

"My first couple of years, I didn't really know what I was doing, but I did know that if I watched enough film, I would figure something out eventually, so that's all I did," Kreutzfeldt recalled.

But even as a head coach, now in Year 3 guiding the MHS program, Kreutzfeldt has carried on the bulk of scouting responsibilities. For each game, Kreutzfeldt and his coaching staff — Pat Larson, Pat Moller, Travis Salmonson and Matt Henriksen — create in-depth reports that include elements such as player stats, shot charts, tendencies and team points of emphasis.

Kreutzfeldt admits that he is sometimes conflicted about whether the reports are too detailed or too basic. Either way, he finds comfort in knowing that Mitchell does all it can to be ready, and with a 21-1 record, certainly the Kernels have reaped the rewards of finding strategic advantages through attention to detail.

"That's what I take the most pride in; I want us to be the most prepared team in every game we play," Kreutzfeldt said. "There have been games where that wasn't true, and there have been a lot of games where I think it was true.

"How prepared our guys are is something we can control," he added, "and that's something our coaching staff enjoys is getting our guys ready."

With an 11-day lead-up to Thursday's state quarterfinal against Sioux Falls Jefferson, Kreutzfeldt and company watched every game the Cavaliers played this season.

Included in that span was an intense period of preparation Kreutzfeldt refers to as "bunker day." On Sunday, Kreutzfeldt was holed up in his Mitchell High School classroom reviewing state tournament scouting materials from approximately 10 a.m. until 11:30 p.m.

That's not to mention the other 10 days' worth of work.

For the Kernels' SoDak 16 game against Yankton earlier this month and Thursday's Class AA quarterfinal, Kreutzfeldt made a packet for each player that included every offensive scheme the coaching staff observed the opposing team run throughout the year.

"It ends up being a lot of hours," Kreutzfeldt said, though he maintains he enjoys the process. "We stay until we have it all figured out."

Though the Kernels barely have 24 hours between the quarterfinals and Friday night's semifinals, they don't compromise the process.

"It's bunker night (Thursday night)," Kreutzfeldt said with a chuckle, though clearly not joking.

The staff still takes a deep dive into the film, burning the midnight oil to provide Mitchell with as many insights as possible. With a semifinal win, Friday night will evolve into yet another meeting of the minds inside the bunker at Mitchell's team hotel.

"We don't take a shortcut in the state tournament. We'll do the same scout, all the same preparation, it just takes place from about 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.," Kreutzfeldt explained. "There's not a lot of sleep to be had at the state tournament, but I wouldn't want to be well rested."

The amount of work the coaching staff puts in behind the scenes doesn't go unnoticed by the Mitchell players. According to sophomore Colton Smith, the Kernels draw an extra sense of confidence in knowing what to expect from the opposition on any given possession.

"It's kind of scary how much he knows and how much he can break it down for us," Smith said of the detail included in the scouting report. "But his working as hard as he does really helps us out."

"Along with the scouting report, we have a scout team that runs those plays," added senior Gavin Soukup. "Knowing what play is coming and what your man is going to do and his tendencies, it really helps with staying in front and playing good defense."

Kreutzfeldt admits there are times, such as the SoDak 16 against Yankton, where much of the scouting report was null and void because the Bucks installed many new sets and actions to throw at Mitchell. Other times, like against Jefferson on Thursday, the Kernels recognize a lot of what they see.

No matter which way the pendulum swings, it doesn't dissuade the scouting efforts. And for the quick turnaround at the state tournament, it's appreciated just a little bit more.

"It's hard to turn around and do it again the next day," Smith said. "But we know they'll be up all night, and we'll have a scouting report in the morning."