Longevity has helped Mitchell's Amber Moller get the most out of her high school tennis career
In her fifth season of high school tennis and playing for her dad as coach, Amber Moller has maximized everything she can get out of her Kernel tennis experience
MITCHELL — Amber Moller has grown up around the tennis court.
With her dad, Pat, coaching both the Kernel boys and girls teams, tennis has been part of the routine for the Kernel senior.
In the fall, she’s competing on the court and this season — her fifth on the MHS varsity and her first as a Flight 1 player — it means providing mentorship for a young, burgeoning team. In the spring, she helps with the boys squad as a manager, adding to her time around tennis.
She joked that last week’s Eastern South Dakota Conference meet in Mitchell was probably her 14th meet she’s attended, and she’s played in five of them.
That longevity and time around tennis in South Dakota gives Amber Moller something rare: she knows almost every player and coach she interacts with on a competition day. It's common to watch a Moller match and see her have an extended conversation with her opponent during a changeover or while walking onto the court. She considers the opponents she's faced two or three times a year in recent seasons — rivals by every definition — some of her closest friends in the sport. It’s also given her perspective that few high school athletes ever get to experience.
“She knows everybody,” coach Moller said. “She has relationships with a lot of the head coaches and a lot of the players, and to show our younger players that you can compete on the court but you can create friendships that are going to last a lot longer than just however long you play high school tennis. … Too often in sports, we bill the opposing team as the enemy. But really when you get off the court, you realize you have more in common with the opponent than you think, no matter who it is.”
Moller and the Kernels will put a bow on the girls tennis season starting Thursday at the Class AA girls tennis state tournament, which begins at 9 a.m. Central time at Sioux Park in Rapid City, with singles and doubles play taking place over two days.
Playing in the No. 1 flights at singles and doubles, Moller knows she’s going to face the best of what other teams have to offer. She is 12-13 in singles matches this season and 18-7 in Flight 1 doubles competition with partner Delaney Degen.
“I have to show up and play,” Amber Moller said. “There’s no easy day off, and that’s fine because this is my fifth year. I can have a tough loss and it doesn’t hurt as bad as it did in my first or second year.”
She said she can impart a lot of advice to younger players because she’s seen nearly every situation unfold on the court. She’s an advocate of the team’s five-minute rule after a match, when a player can be as mad as they want for five minutes and then they have to reset and focus on what’s next.
“A lot of these girls when they’re suffering these hard losses, I can tell them, ‘I know how that goes, I know what that feels like.’ That makes it easier to hit that reset button,” Moller said.
A season ago, Moller finished third at the No. 3 singles bracket in Class A and teamed up with senior Sydney Reynolds to win first place in the No. 2 doubles bracket for the Kernels, leading Mitchell to its largest state title victory in a run of three straight team championships in Class A.
But with so many seniors graduating, and those players being the ones that Moller grew up playing with, this season has been an adjustment to a new, younger group of Kernel talent, and an evolution she said she appreciates now.
“Ever since I was in third grade, I’ve been coming to these matches,” Amber Moller said. “It’s been a big part of my life and hopefully, college will allow me to come back and watch my teammates play. Honestly, it’s been like a second home to me.”
Both coach and player, father and daughter, admit it’s difficult to know Amber's playing career is coming to an end, and they’re putting off thinking about that for as long as possible.
“Amber has been following me around on the tennis court since she was about 7 years old,” coach Moller said. “So that’s 10 years … and I’ve had other coaches come up and say, ‘It’s going to be weird to see you without Amber there.’ I’m not going to dwell on that until I have to but right now, we’re just going to enjoy having her as a team leader and someone that really enjoys tennis get to finish out her career as strong as she can.”
“It’s a love-hate relationship,” Amber Moller said with a smile. “At the end of the day, we want what’s best not just for me but for the team. We’ve learned to put our differences aside, because it is hard to leave stuff at home and come to the courts or vice-versa but overall, I wouldn’t have wanted another coach to be there.”