Mitchell High School boys tennis coach Pat Moller was optimistic after his team concluded its regular season on Tuesday.
The Kernels had just been beaten by Brandon Valley and Yankton in a triangular, but Moller felt his team was on the cusp of breaking out heading into the Eastern South Dakota Conference Tournament, set to begin at 8 a.m. today in Brookings.
Not only was he confident that his team would find success in the tournament, he thought any of them had a chance to come away with a tournament championship if they played to potential after going 17-6 overall and 8-3 in the ESD.
"If we can get everybody to play at their best, we can beat anybody," Moller said. "They've got to believe in themselves and they've got to go out and play the best tennis they can. ... I think a lot of teams are going to see Mitchell and think, 'Oh, we've got to be careful, that's a team that can knock us off.' "
Ryan Bergeson finished the regular season 9-2 in ESD play at No. 2 singles-with both losses coming to Yankton's Michael Frick-while the No. 3 doubles tandem of Macon Larson and Ben Helleloid also went 9-2 after beginning the season with nine consecutive wins.
Kade Clark (No. 1 singles) and Larson (No. 4 singles) had three losses apiece in singles competition, while Max Tupper and Kaden Jerke were 7-4 at No. 2 doubles.
The top doubles team of Clark and Bergeson were 5-6 in conference play, but they took the top-ranked ESD duo Matthew Schmitz and Carson Mork, of Brandon Valley, to three sets on Tuesday, despite Clark suffering a pulled muscle during the second set.
"We lose 10-8 in the match tiebreak and it could have gone either way," Moller said. "If Kade doesn't get hurt in that second set, it maybe doesn't go to a tiebreak. We might be able to close that out if we're healthy. Up and down our lineup, the potential is there."
Clark should be ready to compete in the tournament, according to Moller, particularly after it was postponed a day due to inclement weather.
The Kernels don't have a senior in the lineup for the meet, but Moller thinks this is when the team is going to come of age, with two freshmen, a sophomore and four juniors that have been in the lineup nearly every match this season.
"We've lost some matches we shouldn't have lost, but we've also gained some experience," Moller said. "Starting with the ESD tournament and the state tournament, you're no longer going to hear me say we're young and inexperienced."