New set of faces, same set of expectations.
The Mitchell High School boys tennis team graduated six seniors from last season's team, which captured its fifth straight Eastern South Dakota Conference crown. The Kernels also claimed fourth place at the state tournament.
Despite the losses due to graduation, MHS coach Pat Moller said the expectations remain high for the Kernels.
"We are kind of starting all over," Moller said. "But at the same time, we have been building our depth for a long time and we've got the depth where I think we are still going to be competitive. It's just whether or not we can get these guys to play doubles at the level that they need to in order to be successful or not. That's going to be the real question mark and that's what we are going to work toward."
It's also created some healthy competition during the early stages of practice.
"The challenge matches have been fast and furious," Moller said. "There's been a lot of heartbreak and a lot of disappointment and a lot of excitement with that, but ultimately we find out who the best competitors are and the kids that have put in the most time, that work ethic is showing and it's paying for them and it's kind of nice to see that."
Junior Kade Clark has paid his dues with the Kernels and appears next in line to hold down the No. 1 singles spot. Clark was the No. 6 singles player as a freshman, while he was the No. 5 singles player last season.
"He's definitely going to be our leader and he's going to play No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles for us," Moller said. "He's been preparing for this one spot for the entire offseason. He looks pretty strong and I think he's got the opportunity to surprise some people."
Junior Ryan Bergeson will man the No. 2 singles spot and will team up with Clark at No. 1 doubles. Junior Max Tupper will likely slot in at the No. 3 singles position and will be on the No. 2 doubles, but his partner is to be determined.
"Those three are kind of at the top of our lineup and then after them, we are still trying to figure things out," Moller said.
Moller said senior Jace Grosdider, junior Kade Jerke, sophomore Ben Helleloid and freshmen Macon Larson and Tyler Loecker are all also in the mix for spots, but he's still ironing out positions.
"It's the nice thing about the depth that we have, is we can go out and they can push each other and in some cases, these are going to be some of the most competitive matches they have all year," Moller said.
The Kernels open the season at the Pierre Triangular vs. the Governors and Rapid City Central on April 2.