Nearly two weeks removed, Mitchell High School is still soaking in the splendor of hoisting the first-ever Class A state tennis championship trophy.
As the Kernels hosted a team celebration on Monday at Lake House Restaurant and Lounge, they had an opportunity to reflect on the class split and the benefits that come from winning the state championship.
From being honored at halftime of Mitchell’s football game on Friday at Joe Quintal Field, to appearances at local elementary schools and even an upcoming date in front of MItchell City Council, the Kernel tennis program is in the spotlight more than ever before.
“The attention that we’ve gotten, the exposure that we’ve gotten -- it has to help as those kids get to see this,” MHS head coach Pat Moller said. “At the football game the other night there were a lot of young kids there and I wanted to grab them all and say, ‘You could be part of this. All you’ve got to do is pick up a racket.’ I’m hoping the exposure will lead to more kids giving this a shot.”
Winning is not new to the Mitchell tennis program, having gone 53-13 in dual meets from 2016-2018, but that success did not extend to the state tournament. During that span, the Kernels had eighth, fourth and ninth-place finishes in the single-class tournament system.
In fact, Mitchell often considered the Eastern South Dakota Conference tournament the pinnacle of the season, as the state tournament has largely been dominated by Sioux Falls Lincoln, Sioux Falls O’Gorman and Rapid City Stevens -- schools with larger enrollments.
Senior Kelsey Dahme finished tied for second in school history with 97 wins -- seven fewer than all-time leader Avery Larson -- but the state tournament did not pan out in her favor, until this season. Dahme teamed with Atlanta Stahle to win the No. 1 doubles championship and was awarded the Spirit of Max award.
“I think there would have been more regrets if it was one big state championship,” Dahme said. “I don’t think our team would have placed as high. I don’t think any of us, individually, would have placed where we did.”
In turn, the adulation directed toward the Kernel tennis program would not have come either. The more young kids hear about Mitchell’s state championship, the more likely they are to try the sport and grow the program.
“Getting recognized by the community has made it so much better,” Dahme said. “We never really got a lot of recognition for tennis in the community and people don’t even know about it all the time. It has been nice to be recognized.”
As the Kernels transition to the offseason, five of the seven players that competed at the state tournament are slated to return next season.
For many of the top tennis players, the winter and spring are prime for improvement, but for years it was a time Mitchell found itself at a disadvantage compared to bigger schools. With the class split, it is no longer a concern.
“Sioux Falls and Rapid City have huge advantages over Mitchell, especially when it comes to offseason coaching,” Moller said. “(SDHSAA) rules say I can’t coach kids until the end of the school year. You go to Sioux Falls, there are 15 professional coaches that aren’t associated with teams. Those kids can get high-quality coaching. In Mitchell, anyone with that ability is on my coaching staff.”