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Kernel tennis carries success into state

One week after claiming the Eastern South Dakota Conference tournament title, the Mitchell High School girls tennis team has its eyes on a bigger prize.

Mitchell's Sarah Zimmerman serves the ball during a match earlier this year at Hitchcock Park. Zimmerman and the Kernels begin play at the state tournament today at 8 a.m. in Sioux Falls and Brandon. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Mitchell's Sarah Zimmerman serves the ball during a match earlier this year at Hitchcock Park. Zimmerman and the Kernels begin play at the state tournament today at 8 a.m. in Sioux Falls and Brandon. (Matt Gade / Republic)

One week after claiming the Eastern South Dakota Conference tournament title, the Mitchell High School girls tennis team has its eyes on a bigger prize.

The Kernels will be one of 23 teams competing in the state tournament, which begins today in Sioux Falls and Brandon and continues through Saturday. Matches begin at 8 a.m. today and Friday at McKennan Park, Sioux Falls Washington and Brandon Valley, while the final championship matches will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday at McKennan Park.

Riding high from the team's ESD crown, where three Kernels won singles titles, MHS head coach Pat Moller said his team can continue to build off last week's performance in Aberdeen.

"We should be playing singles with a lot of confidence. That's a positive we can take into the state tournament," Moller said. "At the same time, we have some work to do in doubles. We might not have been mentally ready for some of those (conference) matches and we've been focusing on expecting the best from our opponents in every match."

Moller said the Kernels spent all of Monday focusing on doubles play, finding ways to maximize strengths, while Tuesday was spent focusing on singles. Mitchell enters the state tournament with no player seeded lower than ninth and no doubles team seeded lower than seventh.

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In singles, Sammy Pooley (Flight 1) is seeded fifth, Avery Larson (Flight 2) is seeded second, Kelsey Dahme (Flight 3) is seeded third, Ashley Jones (Flight 4) is seeded fourth, Sarah Zimmerman (Flight 5) is seeded fifth and Kiersten Bathke (Flight 6) is seeded eighth.

"We have a couple of tough matches (today), but for the most part we don't want to get upset," Moller said about the first day of the tournament.

He stressed the importance of the quarterfinal matches on Friday.

"Those separate the pretenders from the contenders and we want to be contenders," he said, pointing out that's where higher seeds start to really benefit. "With Avery, in a quarterfinal match, she's playing probably a No. 7 seed. There's a pretty big gap there, and it makes that less stressful for her. Hopefully, she can get into the semifinals and go from there."

Sioux Falls Lincoln's Ava Leonard, who is 27-0 and claimed a Flight 3 state title last year, is the No. 1 seed in Flight 2. Larson, who has a 22-2 record, said she was happy about receiving a high seed, but added she and the entire team is still out to prove themselves.

"We worked really hard for this," Larson said. "I'm really excited for the tournament."

In doubles, Larson and Pooley (Flight 1) are seeded third, Dahme and Jones (Flight 2) are seeded seventh and Zimmerman and Madison Bohlen (Flight 3) are seeded fifth.

Larson said her and Pooley are looking to make a deep run at state after falling to Brandon Valley in the ESD title match.

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"We had a few upsets in our doubles championship matches and that's something we can learn from," Larson said. "These last few days of practice are really big for us."

Rain is in the forecast for today, Friday and Saturday. If rain delays the tournament, matches will be moved indoors at the Huether Family Match Pointe, Great Life Woodlake Athletic Club and the Country Club of Sioux Falls.

With plenty of tennis scheduled for three days as well as unknowns of weather and future opponents, Moller said his team is focused on controlling what it can control.

"Our whole season, we planned for the rigors of ESD and state," Moller said. "We are ready physically and mentally."

Related Topics: KERNELSGIRLS TENNIS
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