Mitchell to rely on depth in bid for back-to-back state titles
RAPID CITY -- During the Eastern South Dakota Conference tournament, Mitchell coach Pat Moller overheard someone asking how many Flight 6 players in the state could hold a rally with a Flight 1 player.
The faster pace and better technique at Flight 1 both would cause problems for most team’s lower flights. But not for the Kernels.
“We have that,” Moller said. “We have a Flight 7, Flight 8 and Flight 9 player that can do that. ... Our depth allows us to (be successful), and our depth is going to carry us a long way in the state tournament.”
Mitchell’s depth separated it from the rest of the ESD as it claimed a conference championship on Tuesday. And on Oct. 5-6 at the Sioux Park and Parkview Tennis Complex, Moller hopes it can have the same impact.
Rapid City Christian poses the biggest threat at stopping Mitchell’s bid of back-to-back Class A state championships.
It has the talent at the top to compete with Mitchell, with Moller calling its Flight 1 singles player Ella Hancock (17-1), “the best singles player in Class A right now.”
Aberdeen Roncalli has also improved since falling 9-0 in the season opener against the Kernels.
“The one thing we have over both of these teams is our depth,” Moller said.
Singles play has been Mitchell’s strength this season, but even as it didn’t have its best performance at ESD, its depth still showed by placing in every flight.
Atlanta Stahle became the second Flight 1 singles player to win an ESD title under Moller, while Megan Mastel (Flight 6) also placed first. Julia Platt (Flight 4) and Kiersten Bathke (Flight 5) took second and third, respectively.
Similar to last year’s state tournament, Mitchell made a comeback with stellar doubles play. Stahle and Amber Moller (Flight 1), along with Bathke and Olivia Huber (Flight 2) are coming off ESD doubles championships. In Flight 3, Platt and Delaney Degen placed second.
“In tournaments, doubles play is always big because it’s worth so many points,” Moller said. “It’s at the end of the tournament, so as we saw at ESD, as we saw at the state tournament last year, teams can come up from behind and win when they’re not expected to if their doubles play is strong.”
As much as it will be about getting back to the level it played singles at during the regular season and maintaining the high-level doubles play it’s had in recent tournaments, it’ll also be just as important handling any extra pressure that comes as the defending state champions.
“We have to realize the target’s going to be on our back,” Moller said. “We’re the defending state champs. We’re coming off an ESD win. Some people would say that’s more difficult than winning a Class A state title. It’s going to be us against the rest of the field. There’s going to be a lot of people cheering for upsets to happen and for us to lose, and we have to be willing to accept that challenge.”