SIOUX FALLS -- A grueling schedule is about to pay dividends. Or at least that’s the hope for the Mitchell High School girls tennis team.
The Kernels have battled several of the top teams in the state throughout the regular season in preparation for competition in the first-ever Class A state tournament on Monday and Tuesday at Kuehn and McKennan Parks in Sioux Falls.
Familiar opponents such as Yankton are in the field, while new foes such as Aberdeen Roncalli, Madison and Rapid City Christian serve as some of the main competition for Mitchell in its quest for a state championship.
“Our goal is to win a state title, but I would hope that’s every team’s goal,” MHS head coach Pat Moller said. “We’re going to have to play well. … It’s going to be a matter of if we can play our best tennis at the end of the year and I think that all of the tennis we’ve played and all the experience we’ve had is going to pay dividends.”
Mitchell was 8-3 in matches against Class A opponents at the Eastern South Dakota Conference tournament on Thursday and holds wins over Roncalli and Madison in dual meets, while dropping a dual to Rapid City Christian in August.
Meanwhile, Yankton -- Moller’s pick as the favorite -- nipped Mitchell in both dual meets this season by a slim margin.
Senior Kelsey Dahme will have some stiff competition at No. 1 singles against Yankton’s Josie Krajewski and Rapid City Christian’s Ella Hancock.
Atlanta Stahle dropped a match to Roncalli’s Hallie Haskell on Aug. 13 and split with Yankton’s Maggie Schaefer, who was the ESD runner-up at No. 2 singles.
Olivia Huber and Amber Moller are also contenders at No. 3 and No. 5 singles, respectively, while Ashley Jones dropped three matches all season at No. 6 singles.
Kiersten Bathke is coming off her best performance at No. 4 singles at the ESD tournament and captured the No. 3 doubles title with partner Allison Mastel to create momentum heading into state.
“We’ve set ourselves up for some top seeds and we should have some first-round byes,” Moller said. “The seed points don’t come out until Monday morning, but the girls have themselves in an opportunity to win on Day 1 and put themselves into position to place highly on Day 2.”
It is a different feeling going into the state tournament due to the class split, as Class A schools no longer have to contend with juggernauts such as Sioux Falls Lincoln, Sioux Falls O’Gorman and Rapid City Stevens.
One of the three schools placed first or second every year since the state tournament began in 1973 and accounted for 35 of the 44 state championships, but their absences open up new opportunities.
“There’s always been players or teams we weren’t good enough to beat,” Moller said. “If we could get a top-eight seed, that was pretty good. Now we’re looking at No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds. Hopefully that leads to a more fund and competitive state tournament for us. Hopefully this split allows kids to create memories and grow the sport in South Dakota.”