To say that Munster's Michael Kitchell comes from a tennis family would be somewhat of an understatement.
His brother, Andrew, played for the Mustangs from 2003 to 2006. His sister, Emily, played both doubles and singles for the 'Stangs from 2005 to 2007. Cousin Sarah starred for the Highland Trojans from 2006 to 2009. Parents, aunts and uncles have been grooming the younger generation for as long as anyone can remember.
Kitchell came out from under the family umbrella and into his own in 2010, when he went 14-0 at No. 3 singles to help Munster make it to the Final Four for the fourth time since 2006. Last year, he alternated between singles and No. 1 doubles for the Mustangs.
Now a senior, Kitchell will step into the role of No. 2 singles, as the ‘Stangs prepare for a season they hope ends back in Indianapolis.
“I am all for helping the team wherever I can,” Kitchell said. “If the coach and the team need me at a certain position, that’s where I want to be.”
Coach Steve Lopez appreciates the flexibility Kitchell brings the team.
“Mike is athletic enough to be able to play several different positions for us,” Lopez said. “Every team that is going to advance in the postseason needs someone who can move around and help with matchups. Mike fills that role for us very well.”
Kitchell’s attitude about the possibility of moving around helps make it easy on the team.
“Sure, I prefer playing singles,” he said. “But I want to win, so I’m ready to do what is necessary.”
Munster enters the season with five seniors starting for the varsity squad. They have steadily improved each year, and Lopez is hoping it all comes together this is the season.
“These guys have been working together for quite a while now,” Lopez said. “It is their last chance to make some noise as a group. I think the finality of that is in their minds.”
In addition to summer volunteer workouts on the high school courts, Kitchell participated with the Munster Monkees, a co-ed team that made it to the 2011 USTA Jr. Team Tennis 18 Intermediate National Championships in Arizona. The Monkees finished second.
“I have put a lot of work into my game during the offseason,” Kitchell said. “The speed and intensity at No. 2 singles is different than what I experienced at No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles, so I made sure I played a lot of singles against tough competition to be ready for the step up.”
Lopez said one of Kitchell's greatest assets is his ability to adjust and learn on the fly.
"Michael is very talented and very athletic," Lopez said, "but what really stands out is how well he has adjusted his game. At No. 2 singles, you see such a variety of play from opponents. You never know what you're going to get. He's been able to adjust to that given day and play well."
Last year, Munster lost to eventual state champion Carmel in the Sweet Sixteen round. There is a chance that history could repeat itself this season.
“We just have to rise above our competition and play our game,” Kitchell said. “I believe we can beat whoever we play if we continue to work hard and push each other,”.