The Mitchell High School girls tennis team has the depth to three-peat as Class A state champions.

For the third straight year, the Kernels made their mark at the Eastern South Dakota Conference tournament and are still labeled the hunted in the race for the Class A state title.

Mitchell coach Pat Moller said he’s even noticed teams, as well as fans, cheering for anyone but the Kernels during their matches at the ESD tournament.

“This year has felt a little bit like it’s us against the world,” Moller said. “We’re not going to get a lot of people outside of Mitchell cheering for Mitchell. We’re on top of the hill and everybody’s trying to knock us off.”

This does not come as a surprise for Moller or any of his players as that is something he’s been preparing them for since last season, when Mitchell scored 499 points at the state meet and won five of the nine individual flight titles.

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“We have to expect the best from all of our opponents because they’re all going to come after us with everything they have,” Moller said. “Our girls have that target on their back, they’ve handled that pressure really well and showed the conference that we deserved that title and I couldn’t be more proud of them for that.”

Mitchell dominated in the regular season and won the ESD conference, finishing with a dual record of 19-3 and outscoring opponents in duals 143-29.

Moller said Mitchell’s experience and veteran play is something that most teams do not have and that’s what continues to carry them forward.

“Our experience is something that I believe intimidates other people,” Moller said. “Our girls have just been there. They just go out and play. They don’t seem to feel the pressure that other teams do. I think when other teams are playing Mitchell, they feel like they have to play perfect.”

The Kernels are led by No. 1 singles player Atlanta Stahle and No. 2 singles player Olivia Huber. Stahle enters the state tournament with a record of 16-9 and Huber comes in with a record of 22-4, and was the state champion at No. 2 singles a year ago.

Moller first began coaching Stahle and Huber in sixth grade when they first began playing the sport and have been on varsity since their freshman year. As the season wanes for these two seniors, Moller appreciates the leaders they’ve been and how it’s made his job easier.

“Those two both have been a stalwart at the top of our lineup and leaders on the court and in practice,” Moller said. “If I want the girls to work on something or do something, or maybe even need their opinions, I reach out to one of those two and they take it from there. That’s going to be missed after this year.”

Aside from Stahle and Huber, Mitchell's depth shows through. In Flight No. 3 singles, Amber Moller enters state tournament with a record of 17-8 and No. 4 singles player Julia Platt has a 24-1 record. Amber Moller, daughter of coach Pat Moller, has been involved in the sport since third grade. Platt will try to defend her Flight No. 4 state title from last season, as well.

Sydney Reynolds, a senior who is in her first year at Mitchell, has a 19-5 record in No. 5 singles play and has been a varsity tennis player at No. 1 singles since her freshman year of high school. Megan Mastel, another defending champion from No. 6 singles at last year's state meet, enters with only one loss on the year at 26-1.

“Most times with this veteran group, as long as we’ve been working together, we make eye contact and they understand what they need to do better and what they need to do differently in order to be successful,” Moller said. “These girls have been with me on the varsity for so long that we have that special bond and that’s an advantage that we have over some other teams.”

Mitchell's biggest threat for another title comes from ESD rival Yankton. The two teams split their regular-season matchups. Even though Mitchell racked up 77 more points than Yankton in the ESD tournament, Yankton’s No. 1 singles player Maggie Schaefer beat Stahle 10-1 for the second time this year.

“That’s probably our biggest competition,” Moller said. “They’re so strong at the top of their lineup. They’ve very tough and have a lot of experience. They have some of the best players in the state.”

In No. 2 singles play, Yankton’s Nora Krajewski went the distance with Huber for the ESD title. Huber was victorious, edging Krajewski 10-9 (4). Huber also won the meeting in last year's No. 2 singles final, winning 6-4 and 6-3.

Regardless of who Mitchell might face in the state tournament, they have the chance to do something special. Something so special that Moller says this moment is so rare, this will be something the players will tell their grandchildren about.

“In your life, you only have a few opportunities to do something like what we’re trying to do,” Moller said. “We have an opportunity for them to do something they can talk about in 30 years. We have an opportunity to defend our state title for the third time. To be able to three-peat, there’s not many people that have a chance to do that so we don’t want to waste that opportunity nor take anything for granted.”

The Class A state tennis tournament will be held Oct. 4-5 in Sioux Falls at McKennan Park and Kuehn Park, beginning at 8 a.m.