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Kernels want to build on last season

Mitchell's Madison Bohlen returns a shot while competing in doubles action during a match last season at Hitchcock Park. (Republic file photo)

Every year Mitchell High School girls head tennis coach Pat Moller says that his team's goal is to improve on last season. That won't be as easy this year.

Mitchell is coming off an Eastern South Dakota conference title and a fourth-place finish at state last season. Also, when the Kernels take the court on Aug. 13 at Brookings, they will have to replace two key seniors from last year's team in Sammy Pooley and Sarah Zimmerman.

Pooley was Mitchell's No. 1 singles player last year, while Zimmerman was its No. 5 player.

"It's certainly been an adjustment, it'll continue to be an adjustment (without Pooley)," Moller said. "She was a great presence on the court, but she was a good example for these other girls and they've learned from her over the last few years."

The Kernels still have plenty of depth, though. Moller said he can envision as many as 12 girls making an impact at the varsity level this season, led by its No. 1 singles player, Avery Larson.

Larson, a senior, won a conference title in singles play last year, while also being Pooley's doubles partner.

The rest of the singles positions are up for grabs. That's why Moller describes the Kernels' practices as the girls, "beating each other up on the tennis court all week." Mitchell's practices have been filled with challenger matches to determine singles positions.

"There's a lot of competition (this summer)," Moller said. "We had a lot of girls who put in (more than 100 hours of practice) in the off-season."

Moller singled out Madison Bohlen's improvement from last year, citing her work ethic which, "filtered down through the team." Bohlen won a state title at No. 3 doubles last year but never cracked the varsity singles lineup. This year, she heads into the season as one of Mitchell's top-three singles players.

Allison Mastel, Olivia Huber, Atlanta Stahle and Amber Moller, the team's only eighth-grader, are also expected to play critical roles on the team this season.

"They're grasping their opportunities that they have here during practice, and we're just getting ready for a match," Moller said. "... We're just fortunate to have that depth, and these girls push each other to make each other better every day."

With Larson leading the way on a team with plenty of youthful depth, Moller thinks Mitchell can be in the mix for another ESD conference title and high finish at state.

"Our boys have been successful for the last 5-6 years here, and the girls were tired of hearing about the boys," Moller said. "To get that monkey off their back and say 'yeah, we belong here, too' I think there's some pride involved there. ... I think now that they've attained that level, they want to stay there. I know I certainly do."