SIOUX FALLS -- When the SDHSAA split the state tennis tournament into two classes, coach Pat Moller felt it would create lasting memories for more players and teams.
On Tuesday, the Mitchell High School girls tennis team created a memory none of them will ever forget after winning the first Class A state tournament by edging Yankton, 492.5-484.5, at McKennan Park.
Early in the day, Olivia Huber and Ashley Jones captured individual state championships to keep the Kernels within striking distance of Yankton.
A third-place finish in No. 3 doubles and a state championship by Kelsey Dahme and Atlanta Stahle at No. 1 doubles set up a chance to take home the state title with a win at No. 2 doubles. Huber and Amber Moller won in straight sets to give Mitchell its first state championship in program history.
“I can’t be more proud of the girls,” Moller said. “We had some high-pressure matches at the end and we had to win all of them. The girls played their very best tennis of the year at the end.”
Mitchell displayed resilience throughout the final day of the tournament, particularly in trailing by 18 points entering doubles competition. Dahme dropped a semifinal match in No. 1 singles to begin the day, while Stahle finished as the runner-up in No. 2 singles after a back-and-forth three-set match with Yankton’s Maggie Schaefer.
The tandem was seeded fourth in doubles and drew the Yankton team of Josie Krajewski and Olivia Tennant. Despite losing two out of three matches to the Gazelles in the regular season, Mitchell came back to win, 7-6(2), 7-5, before breezing past Aberdeen Roncalli’s Hallie Haskell and Abby Hanson in the finals, 6-3, 6-2.
“I think it helps having that fire in your belly,” said Dahme, who also won the Spirit of Max award. “Obviously in singles, I was super bummed about it, so being able to come out here and win is the best thing I could have asked for.”
With Kiersten Bathke and Allison Mastel having already placed third at No. 3 doubles and Yankton falling to Milbank in the third-place match, Huber and Moller simply needed to close out a two-set sweep.
In their lone matchup of the season, the Kernel tandem lost to the top-seeded team of Schaefer and Stacia Sherman, both of whom won individual state titles. But in the state finals, it was Mitchell that cruised to a 6-1, 6-2 win.
“Every time we faced (Yankton), we got a little bit closer,” Pat Moller said. “We talked about elevating our game against Yankton, and we didn’t win all of those matches, but we won the big ones. You’ve got to credit to Yankton, they’re an awfully good team. At the end of the day, those doubles matches were the difference and our girls were just ready for the grind.”
Of course, Huber's state championship was not her first of the day, but it did help her become the lone player to win a state championship in singles and doubles play.
While her doubles match did not have many hiccups, the sophomore needed a comeback to beat Hanson in the No. 3 singles final.
After dropping the first set to Hanson, 6-4, Huber took the second by the same score. After a few serving errors by Hanson, Huber laced a shot down the line to take firm control of the third set and eventually celebrated when a shot landed out of bounds for the final point.
"I'm only a sophomore and there's a lot of emotions going on (during the match)," Huber said, "and somehow I figured out how to turn that one around."
Jones's victory did not require similar dramatics in the finals, as the top seed in No. 6 singles did have to rebound from a first-set loss to Aberdeen Roncalli's Jemini Cantalope in the semifinals to win, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-1.
The senior then zipped past Yankton's Peyton Tramp in the finals, 6-0, 6-2, capping a whirlwind season that resulted in just three losses after opting not to play during her junior season.
"The turning point was my O'Gorman match," Jones said. "That was tough because it was my first loss. I was 11-1 at that point and I wasn't used to losing. I just had to think to myself, 'I know what I need to do better and I need to go out show everyone that I'm this good and I can do it."