RCCh Schneller

Bridget Schneller from Rapid City Christian stretches to hit a forehand volley during the Comets' No. 2 doubles match against Madison on Saturday as part of the second day of play in the West River Invitational girls tennis meet

A new chapter in South Dakota high school girls tennis opens on Monday as for the first time since the sport’s inception in 1969, two champions will be crowned this year with the division of the 23 teams into two classes (AA and A).

The initial Class A tournament begins play today in Sioux Falls with 11 teams competing, while the Class AA squads take over center court on Thursday and Friday.

Though the jury is still out on the new format, Rapid City Christian coach Teresa Postma, whose Lady Comets will be a Class A title contender, welcomes the chance to compete on a more level playing field than in the past.

“The two class systems is an attempt to create fairness and equality for our programs, and I believe a great step in that direction,” Postma said. “In the past, we’d greet the term “State” with a deep breath and play as hard as we could for as long as we could knowing that eventually we’d encounter a powerhouse program.”

Vanessa Rockne, coach of a Yankton program that along with Rapid City Christian, Mitchell and Aberdeen Roncalli should battle for the inaugural Class A title, shared a similar sentiment.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for small school who maybe haven’t had a chance to be competitive in years past,” Rockne said. “Though whether we were playing in one class or two or ten, the girls are just going to go out and compete.”

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Mitchell heads up the most recent Class A media poll followed by Rapid City Christian, Yankton and Aberdeen Roncalli respectively.

"It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Mitchell coach Pat Moller said. “Ourselves, Yankton, Aberdeen Roncalli and Rapid City Christian will be looking to survive day one. And there will be a lot of matches where those teams will be battling each other on day two that will probably decide the championship.”

Rapid City Christian sophomore Ella Hancock (15-6 with the losses coming at the hands of Class AA competition) is top-ranked in singles, followed by seniors Kelsey Dahme of Mitchell and Josephine Krajewski of Yankton. In doubles, the Mitchell duo of Dahme and Atlanta Stahle head the list followed by the Christian pairing of Hancock and senior Paige Wagner.

Also representing the Lady Comets at state will be juniors Bridget Schneller (flight 2), Julia Anderson (3) and Mia Shankle (6), and sophomore Cate Wilhelm (5).

“I trust that our girls will play as hard as they can and bring their all to the tournament, that’s all I expect,” Postma said. “The results will take care of themselves.”

Class A state tournament play begins in Sioux Falls at 8 a.m. on Monday with play at the McKennon courts (flights 1-3) and Kuehn Park (flights 4-6), and concludes on Tuesday at the same two venues (championship matches in all flights will be played at McKennon).

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