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Hungry Kernels eye podium finish

Mitchell's Madison Bohlen returns a serve while competing in No. 3 singles action against Rapid City Central on Aug. 21 at Hitchcock Park. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Mitchell High School girls tennis head coach Pat Moller says his girls are "hungry to win more, to do better," at the South Dakota state tournament after the Kernels finished third at the Eastern South Dakota Conference tournament on Sept. 27.

The Kernels will get their chance a day earlier as expected poor weather in Rapid City forced the tournament to start today instead of Thursday. Despite the Kernels losing a day of practice, Moller called the change "minor" and was happy with the switch since it won't mean potentially cutting the consolation bracket if bad weather hits.

Although, it could mean playing a lot of tennis on Rapid City's seven indoor courts.

"There's obviously no air movement, so it's always a little warm in there for the girls to play," Moller said. "But I think that we've played enough indoor this fall that we understand what that's about and we'll be ready for that."

Experience on indoor courts isn't the Kernels' only advantage. Moller also said that Mitchell is better prepared for state after playing in the much-improved ESD tournament, while it also has one of the deepest teams in state.

Mitchell's four second-place finishes at the ESD meet came at Flights 5 (Atlanta Stahle) and 6 (Olivia Huber) in singles play and Flights 2 (Kiersten Bathke/Madison Bohlen) and 3 (Amber Moller/Stahle) in doubles. Huber, along with Bohlen and Bathke in doubles, are seeded fourth at state, doubles pair Stahle and Moller earned the No. 5 seed, while Stahle enters state as the No. 6 seed in singles.

"Obviously there's a lot of teams that wish they had the number of players we had," Moller said. "Hopefully those bottom seeds will allow us to get into those quarterfinals and semifinals matches with matches that we can win."

Moller said pulling a couple of upsets in the quarterfinals will make-or-break Mitchell's state run.

He's also hoping Avery Larson (No. 8 in Flight 1), Kelsey Dahme (No. 7 in Flight 2) and Bohlen (No. 7 in Flight 3) can help calm the nerves of the younger girls as they all have been to multiple state tournaments.

Larson and Dahme are also seeded ninth in Flight 1 doubles, while Kiersten Bathke is No. 10 in Flight 4.

On the court, Mitchell has put an emphasis on its net play.

"In doubles, we need to put away balls when we're at the net," Moller said. "I thought we gave teams too many opportunities. When we were in winning position, we weren't winning points."

In singles, Moller wants to make sure his team is forcing its opponents to beat them.

"We can't be the last one to hit the ball," Moller said. "We want to make our opponents hit the ball last, and if they're good enough to hit it by us then so be it. But there aren't many players that can do that."

If the Kernels can do those two things, then Moller believes his team can repeat its top-five finish at state from a year ago.

At least, that's Mitchell's goal.

"We hope we get on the podium (top 6)," Moller said. "Our goal is to bring home some hardware as a team. I think that opportunity is there for us, but we have to go out and play and win some matches."

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