MITCHELL — There’s plenty of turnover on the Mitchell boys tennis roster this season.
After finishing in third place at the Class A boys state tennis tournament last year, Mitchell graduated six seniors and returns a youthful roster for the 2023 campaign.
Drake Jerke, who has experience in doubles is the lone senior on the roster for the Kernels, while his brother, Luke Jerke, returns as the only player on the roster with singles experience. Luke was a Flight 6 state champion two years ago in singles.
Because of the lack of experience coming into the season, head coach Pat Moller said much of the lineup is largely up in the air at this point.
“Over the last several years, we have had a very strong JV squad and our numbers are good. And so these kids have been battling each other and had quite a success at the JV level the last several years,” Moller said. “We got probably 10 or 11 kids that are going to fight for those six singles spots and those three doubles positions.”
Though there’s youth and uncertainty shrouding the lineup, Moller said he doesn’t anticipate a down year for the Kernels, noting he feels they can still compete in the Eastern South Dakota Conference and at the state tournament. Part of that confidence stems from the success at lower levels in previous years.
“These kids have had a tremendous amount of success and lost less than 10 matches out of hundreds in their career,” Moller said. “We’ve won the middle school ESD title several times over the last couple of years and they had a lot of success. And whether that translates to the varsity level or not remains to be seen. ”
But figuring out who’s in the lineup has only been made more difficult with the inability to get out on the court due to how much snow is still on the ground. To combat this, Moller said they’ve held practices inside but once they get outside it’ll open up the opportunity for challenge matches to help determine the lineup.
Those challenge matches will also bring a type of energy that Moller said will help prepare his players down the road, and that even though they’re young, a competitive environment that early in the season will be beneficial come tournament time.
“The nice thing about what we have going on now is the challenge matches are pretty pressure-packed, because they have an impact on where these kids are going to end up,” Moller said. “And so we get to see how they play under pressure before the season even starts.”
Competing with the likes of Harrisburg and Yankton — two teams Moller cited he feels could be squads at or near the top of the state — will be no small task for a largely unproven Mitchell squad. But there’s optimism surrounding the Kernels’ young group.
“I would still think that we would be a team that will contend for an ESD conference title,” Moller said, “and a team that will have the potential to be on the podium for the state tournament.”
Already with a number of schedule changes due to the weather, Mitchell opens the season indoors at 2 p.m. Thursday at Yankton at the Easton Archery Complex. The home opener is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, April 6 at noon against St. Thomas More at Hitchcock Park.
Zech Lambert is a sports reporter for the Mitchell Republic. He graduated from Penn State University in May 2022 and began at the Mitchell Republic in July 2022. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Zech_Lambert.
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