Success at the top: Mitchell's Pat Moller among finalists for national tennis coach award
Moller been nominated for the award twice in his 11-year tenure, but after winning his third-straight Class A state title with the Kernel girls team, he has become one of the seven finalists for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Coach of the Year honors.
MITCHELL — With each passing season, Mitchell head tennis coach Pat Moller's Kernel program seems to reach new heights.
Not bad for a coach who admits he was 'completely winging it' when he stepped into the top role more than a decade ago.
In his 11-year stint coaching both the girls and boys teams, Moller has been nominated for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Coach of the Year award once for each gender. This year, Moller is being recognized on the girls side and is one of the seven finalists to win the coach of the year award at this year’s NHSACA national convention in Des Moines, Iowa from June 18-22.
Leading the girls team to its first ever Class A state title in 2019 led to three-straight Class A championships, along and back-to-back Eastern South Dakota Conference titles, Moller is the first Mitchell coach to be a finalist for the national coaches association's coach of the year award since boys basketball coach Gary Munsen won the award in 2013.
“It’s an incredible honor and it’s an honor to represent the region because there are a lot of great coaches in the area,” Moller said. “I’m proud to be able to represent those coaches and represent our region with this honor. I cannot thank the athletes enough for what they’ve done and all the coaches over the years for the advice that they’ve given me. I’m fortunate to be surrounded with coaches and players that are as passionate about the sport as I am.”
Throughout his tenure, Moller also led the boys tennis team to five of its six all-time ESD titles. At the end of 2020-21 season, he surpassed his predecessor and longtime MHS coach Gayle Klein for all-time wins as the boys head coach with a record of 156 wins and 35 losses, giving him a win percentage of .820.
Moller has also attained the best dual-record winning percentage for Mitchell girls tennis, along with the most all-time wins in Mitchell boys tennis, but his introduction to coaching did not seem to portend that this type of success would be forthcoming.
In order to improve his coaching and knowledge of the sport, he reached out and worked with multiple tennis coaches throughout the state, including Jason Olson from Rapid City Stevens and Mitchell assistant coaches Chad Larson, John Cersosimo and Bruce Mastel, on scheme, recruiting, learning the mechanics of the sport and creating a unique system.
As Moller’s mission was to build something that would last in the Mitchell community, he made sacrifices every way possible to get the most out of the program. From shoveling the tennis courts in the winter just to give his team an opportunity to practice, to taking up to four-hour road trips with his staff and middle school athletes to give them more opportunities to compete. Moller understood that connections with kids would be the one of the key ingredients to create a recipe Mitchell could succeed with.
“Part of the reason why our system has grown into what it is today is that I became a relentless recruiter of middle school kids,” Moller said. “You need athletes and you need a lot of them as a coach because not everyone is going to stick with the sport. I’ve gone to hockey, softball and baseball events and tournaments to make connections with kids. I found out that when you do that, kids will give your sport a shot and it’s easier for them to fall in love with that sport.”
In addition to coaching tennis, Moller teaches math at MHS and has been a longtime basketball coach for the Mitchell boys middle school team as well as an assistant at the high school level. As Moller has only become more successful coaching the game of tennis over the years, he religiously thanks his mentors and other coaches for giving him all the tools he needed to succeed.
One of the coaches that’s been right alongside Moller his entire tenure as a boys tennis coach is assistant coach Chad Larson. The two have developed a strong relationship when it comes to coaching the sport of tennis and even though Larson said Moller didn’t come into the head coaching job overflowing with knowledge about the game, they’ve now become a great coaching duo.
“We’re a good blend of coaches where I’m really strong with the technical part of the game and Pat is really strong at the motivation part,” Larson said. “He started off really raw and didn’t know much about the game, but what’s improved in his coaching ability is that he’s learned a lot more of the technical side of the game. … He’s been a really good listener his entire time as a coach and he’s very humble, so it’s really taken him a long way from where he started.”