Kernels striving for the top
Confidence couldn’t be higher for the Mitchell boys tennis team.
The Kernels are coming off their first Eastern South Dakota Conference title in 19 years, winning eight of nine flights at the tournament.
With one goal down, head coach Pat Moller and the boys have their sights set on something more.
“The ultimate goal is a state championship, but I would think any improvement from last year would be considered a success,” he said.
The Kernels join a tough field in the state boys tennis tournament today in Rapid City. The three-day tournament kicks off at 9 a.m. at two sites, Sioux Park and Parkview Tennis Complex.
The Kernels finished fifth last year, which was the school’s best finish since the 1995 season when Mitchell took second. The team has never won the state championship.
Last season, the Kernels accumulated 406 points, behind Sioux Falls Lincoln (505), Sioux Falls O’Gorman (563), Rapid City Stevens (580) and state champion Watertown (604).
Mitchell’s No. 2 singles player and junior Beau Brown said the team is looking to make the final step to solidify the Kernels as one of the top boys tennis programs in South Dakota. Brown reminisced the last two state tournaments, years where Mitchell finished ninth in 2012 and fifth in 2013, saying he wants to play well through the three-day tournament.
“My freshman year I remember we were all happy with how we played after the first day, and last year, we were happy with how we were doing after the second day,” Brown said. “This year, we’re shooting to have that feeling after the third day. We have to support each other through each round and each match.
“Every opponent is going to give us their all and we have to take it one day at a time.”
The Kernels finished the season with a dual record of 21-1, only falling to Sioux Falls Lincoln, another favorite of this year’s tournament. With the success of the season, Mitchell is seeded in all nine flights at state, with No. 5 singles player Brenden Lehr seeded at the top of his flight. Jacob Cersosimo and Alex Hegg are also a top seed at No. 1 doubles. Cersosimo received the lowest seed of any Kernel, being slotted fifth at No. 1 singles. Mitchell received a bye in the first round of all nine flights and will play second round matches today.
Moller said the seeding went as he expected and his players were placed where he thought they would end up.
Sioux Falls Lincoln received the most No. 1 seeds with four, while Sioux Falls O’Gorman matched Mitchell with two. The Knights’ Tommy Entwistle will look to defend his No. 1 singles title as the top seed at the flight going into action today.
Moller said his doubles teams are playing extremely well and looks to them to rack up key points for Mitchell.
“I think it’s been a strength of ours all year long,” he said. “We’re starting to see our practice pay off.”
Mitchell has lost just four doubles matches between its three doubles teams this season. Cersosimo, a junior, and sophomore Alex Hegg have teamed up for a 24-1 record at No. 1 doubles, junior Brown and sophomore Kanin Nelson are 23-2 at No. 2 doubles and junior Brenden Lehr and freshman Jacob Dahme are 24-1 at No. 3 doubles.
In singles, Hegg looks to make another run at a state championship. Last year, he won the No. 5 singles title. He suffered just one loss this season in singles to Lincoln’s Sam Dobbs in the final regular-season match.
Hegg also played in a second championship match with Lehr for No. 3 doubles last season. The pair took second, and Lehr also was runner-up in No. 6 singles.
Moller said having those two players gain championship experience will be key for this team this season.
“The whole team got to experience that,” he said. “It gave them an understanding of what it will be like if we make it that far. There’s probably going to be more pressure on us during this tournament than there has been before.”
Kernel season records and seeds
Players are listed by flight, name, record and seed in the state tournament
No. 1, Jacob Cersosimo, 19-6, fifth
No. 2, Beau Brown, 24-1, second
No. 3, Alex Hegg, 24-1, second
No. 4, Kanin Nelson, 23-2, second
No. 5, Brenden Lehr, 24-1, first
No. 6 Gray Determan, 20-1, third
No. 1, Cersosimo/Hegg, 24-1, first
No. 2, Brown/Nelson, 23-2, third
No. 3, Lehr/Jacob Dahme, 22-1, second