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Young Kernels ready for ESD

Mitchell's Tyler Osterloo returns a shot against an opponent earlier this season at Hitchcock Park. Mitchell travels to Yankton today for the Eastern South Dakota Conference tournament. (Luke Hagen/Republic)

Mitchell boys' tennis coach Gayle Klein usually puts forth a goal for her team to finish at the Eastern South Dakota Conference and state meets better than the previous year.

For a young group like the Kernels are this season, last year's third-place finish at ESD -- which was their best showing since 1999 -- will be tough to match and almost impossible to better.

So, instead of hoping to improve off last season, Klein said she is telling most of her team to use today's meet, which starts at 9 a.m. in Yankton, as a learning tool.

"If you look at last year's lineup, it was filled with seniors," Klein said. "The majority of these kids don't even know what the ESD tournament is all about."

At No. 4, 5 and 6 singles, today's ESD tournament will be a completely new atmosphere.

"I'm going to have to sit down with a lot of them tonight and tell them how it's going to work, because they don't have a clue," Klein said before Thursday's practice.

A sophomore, Taylor Moore is 5-7 this season at No. 4 singles; Tate Crago, a freshman, is 6-8 at No. 5 and seventh-grader Jacob Cersosimo is 9-5 at No. 6. Between the three, there's not one match of the ESD conference or state meets in their lives.

Two juniors and the team's only varsity senior player make up the only veterans Mitchell has.

And at the top, Tyler Osterloo has been in and out of the lineup all season fighting an illness.

In past years, and again during this season, Osterloo -- the team's No. 1 -- has been forced to withdraw from some matches due to an allergic reaction from a high pollen count in the air. Osterloo took second place at last year's ESD tournament.

"That No. 1 flight, I can honestly say, is dead even for everyone," Klein said. "There is probably one or two kids that aren't in a legitimate fight for the top two spots."

After Osterloo, senior Tyler McEntee is at No. 2 singles and has an 8-6 record and junior Jesse Gebel is 3-10 at No. 3.

Last year, Gebel and McEntee teamed to take fourth at the ESD meet at the No. 2 flight, but this year, Gebel will be at No. 1 doubles with Osterloo and McEntee will play with Moore at No. 2.

At No. 3, Cersosimo and Jade Miller will team together. They're 1-2 playing together this year.

"The little guy and the big guy," Klein said. "Jade's low five is Jacob's high five."

Going into the tournament, Mitchell is 2-5 in head-to-head matches against the seven other teams in the eight-team conference.

Though, Klein has been forced to shuffle the lineup for much of the year with the young team in hopes to find the best combinations of doubles teams.

The Kernels defeated Brandon Valley 8-1 and Brookings 5-4, but lost to Yankton, twice, and Aberdeen Central, Watertown and Huron. The Kernels haven't played Pierre due to rained-out matches.

"Pierre and Watertown are going to battle it out," said Klein, who gave the slight edge to Pierre. "A lot is going to come down to who's scoring the points in what flights, and there's going to be a lot of pressure on the top flights."

If today's meet is postponed due to inclement weather, Klein said it will be rescheduled for Saturday.