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Mitchell's boys tennis future is built on winning

If winning is a habit, don't expect the Mitchell High School boys tennis program to be giving it up anytime soon. While the school's varsity team is 15-1 and is led by a strong nucleus of upperclassmen, the Kernels continue to mix those players i...

Mitchell's Carter Cavanaugh returns a shot Friday during a match at Hitchcock Park in Mitchell. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)
Mitchell's Carter Cavanaugh returns a shot during a match earlier this season at Hitchcock Park in Mitchell. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)

If winning is a habit, don't expect the Mitchell High School boys tennis program to be giving it up anytime soon.

While the school's varsity team is 15-1 and is led by a strong nucleus of upperclassmen, the Kernels continue to mix those players in with young players. Mitchell has 28 junior varsity players and entering this week, the Kernels' JV players had a record of 141-11 in matches this season, recording 10 wins for every loss they've accumulated.

On top of an already skilled nine-player varsity squad, there's a lot of talent to go around. The Kernels are the two-time defending Eastern South Dakota Conference champions and have been second in the state as a team two years in a row and Kernels head coach Pat Moller said that success is continuing to trickle through the program.

"They're battling each other all of the time and it's making everyone better," he said.

Sophomore Carter Cavanaugh is 14-1 at No. 4 singles and is 15-1 at No. 2 doubles with teammate and senior Gray Determan, who is 12-1 at No. 3 singles. Sophomore Baley Miller is 16-1 at No. 3 doubles with Jared Suelflow, who is also a sophomore. Fellow 10th grader Adam Loes has built a 12-3 record at No. 6 singles.

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Elsewhere on varsity, senior Alex Hegg is 12-4 at No. 1 singles and 12-3 at No. 1 doubles, frequently playing with junior Jacob Dahme, who is 12-4 as a No. 2 singles player.

Part of the reason Mitchell's farm system has been successful, Moller said, is because they play each other frequently. Moller said it's common for Mitchell's JV players to play each other in tournaments on the weekends to stay sharp.

"For a lot of these kids, the stiffest competition they face is the people they face in practice or going against each other," Moller said. "Facing that level of competition is a huge advantage for them to learn at a younger age."

Mitchell has the largest boys tennis roster of any Eastern South Dakota Conference school, according to analysis of the South Dakota High School Activities Association's website. After the Kernels' 37 players, Yankton has 32 boys playing tennis and Watertown has 31 and Brookings with 29. No other school has more than 25 students out for the sport.

"When you have 30 kids show up and you can play them against opponents that are going to challenge each other appropriately, that's makes everyone better," Moller said.

With all of the wins and all of the success, word about Mitchell's successful youth programs has gotten around. The other schools in the ESD aren't as thrilled about it.

"We're going to be good for a pretty long time," he said. "A lot of the other schools are taking notice but because we're able to put our No. 9 or No. 10 kids in there to fill in for No. 1 and they're competing. (The other coaches) just walk away and shake their heads."

Moller also credited the team's older players for supporting the younger team members on the court, usually long after their matches are over.

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"They're staying around to watch them and support them," he said. "When we've got an eighth grader who is getting support from our seniors and giving him pointers, there's a lot of pride in that.

"The future of tennis in Mitchell is very bright," Moller said.

Related Topics: KERNELSBOYS TENNIS
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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