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Simultaneous success a bonus in the coaching relationship of Todd Neuendorf, Ryker Kreutzfeldt

Mar. 13—MITCHELL — At a glance, Mitchell High School and Hamlin High School have little in common.

The former is in South Dakota's sixth-largest community. The latter rests in the state's northeastern lake region, four miles west of Hayti, total population 388 (barely half the MHS average daily enrollment of 729).

Yet as the Kernels and Chargers boys basketball programs chase championships this week on opposite sides of the Rushmore State, they share a link through coaches Ryker Kreutzfeldt and Todd Neuendorf.

Shortly before the 2017-18 season began, Neuendorf brought Kreutzfeldt onto the Kernels' coaching staff. The pair hadn't met before Kreutzfeldt, then still a student at Dakota Wesleyan, went to Neuendorf's classroom looking to get a start in coaching. It marked the start of a unique journey that currently has both men guiding their own championship-caliber programs.

"He's the only reason I'm in basketball," Kreutzfeldt said of Neuendorf. "He's a mentor, a friend and a big reason why I am where I am. Those are special relationships with the Neuendorfs that I hold really close."

Four short years ago at this time, Neuendorf was guiding MHS into its first Class AA state tournament in nearly a decade, with Kreutzfeldt still on staff. Fast forward to the present, and Kreutzfeldt is rounding out Year 3 of his tenure leading the Kernels, who are headed to a fourth-straight tournament, this time as the No. 1 seed at the Class AA tournament in Sioux Falls.

"I'm glad to see him having success because he devotes his whole life to Kernel basketball," Neuendorf said of Kreutzfeldt. "What the program got was a diamond in the rough because he's a Mitchell lifer and is probably going to be there forever. He works his tail off, and the proof is in the pudding; he has a plan."

Meanwhile, Neuendorf, who had intended to finish his coaching career with the Kernels before moving back closer to Watertown to help care for his parents, has Hamlin as the Class A No. 2 seed in Rapid City.

"We both have some talented kids, and you become a pretty good coach when you have good players," Neuendorf said. "I hope we're both playing Saturday night at the state tournament; that'd be huge."

Between coaching, teaching, family and other responsibilities, Kreutzfeldt and Neuendorf don't get many opportunities to catch up during the regular season. But during the offseason, the two coaches have started bringing Mitchell and Hamlin together to scrimmage.

"There is nothing fun about those games because no one involved wants to lose," Kreutzfeldt said. "It is enjoyable to get to see everyone again and get to talk before and after, but it's definitely unique."

Both men regularly check scores to see how the other's team is faring, catching bits and pieces of action when they can. Neuendorf has an added bit of rooting interest. His son, Easton, now a junior, spent four years growing up and playing with several of players on the Kernels' roster.

It's an easy bet that both men, perhaps even both programs at large, will be rooting for each other this weekend from 350 miles apart. However, both hope that come Saturday night, neither will be available to watch the other.

"I'll be cheering for them," Kreutzfeldt said through a wide smile, "but hopefully I won't be able to watch because we'll both be busy on that Saturday night."