Experience leads Mitchell boys tennis in final season in Class A division
Coming off a fourth-place finish at state last year, Kernels head coach Pat Moller said the team has been motivated all summer and winter and coming into this season in a better spot than last year.
MITCHELL – In its final season playing amongst Class A competition, the Mitchell High School boys tennis team has one of its more experienced groups at its disposal.
The Kernels have six seniors on its roster heading into the 2021-22 season, which officially kicks off Friday at 1 p.m. in a triangular held at Brandon Valley Middle School against Yankton, last year’s state tournament runner-up, and Brandon Valley.
Mitchell is still in the process of sorting out its flight order to begin the season as senior Macon Larson is still dealing with a bruised bone in his knee that sidelined him for the final stretch of the Kernels basketball season. Mitchell head coach Pat Moller said he isn’t sure when Larson will be available, but he will be reevaluated in the weeks to come.
“We have so many athletes on this team and it starts with Larson who’s a multi-sport athlete with golf and basketball,” Moller said. “He’s pretty successful at all those sports and he brings a lot of experience to us since he’s been playing varsity since he was a freshman. … Right now we just want to make sure he’s healthy and once he does, we’ll ease him back into the lineup.”
For the past two weeks, Mitchell has begun practicing and playing challenge matches amongst themselves to determine the flight order with Larson missing in Flight 1 of singles and doubles. The challenge matches in their final practices before the season begins will also determine who will be playing in Flights 5-6.
“In years past, I’ve always thought we have to create a lineup that’s best for this year and the future,” Moller said. “This year, that really isn’t fair if we’re doing that to these seniors so I’ve been focusing on what’s best for our team, just this year, and next year we’ll worry about next year. … Whoever goes out and performs these first couple weeks is going to earn a varsity spot and by the end of the year, if we’re playing all seniors, I like our odds.”
Moller said his seniors bring a lot of maturity and confidence onto the court, and believes it’s an asset not too many teams will have at their disposal.
With that being said, that puts one of the Mitchell tennis players in a peculiar situation. Luke Jerke, a freshman that was the only Kernels tennis player to win a title at the state tournament last year, as an eighth-grader, will be one of the three players fighting for a spot in Flights 5-6.
To begin the season in singles play, Tyler Loecker will be at Flight 2, Aidan Patrick will be at Flight 3 and Jack Vermeulen will move up from Flight 5 to Flight 4. In Flights 5-6, Jerke, along with Connor Thelen and Josh Grosdidier, will be battling for positioning in the final two flights.
In doubles play, Flight 3 has yet to be determined, but Drake Jerke and Patrick will play at Flight 2 and Loecker is locked in at Flight 1 doubles, but still doesn’t know who his partner will be in the immediate future before Larson’s return.
Moller said whatever decision he ultimately ends up making will be best for the team this season and should give them a better shot at the state title, especially with the experience everyone gained last season as they finished fourth in the state tournament.
“Last year we had a lot of players playing varsity for the first time and might not have understood what tournament tennis is all about,” Moller said. “I think we gained a lot of experience and we’ll be more prepared this year. It seems that the tournament experience last year motivated them to get on the court over the summer and over the winter and be prepared. We’re in a better spot this year already.”