Cats’ industrious newcomers make instant splash

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — When Jasper girls tennis coach Scott Yarbrough was outlining the players in his lineup a few weeks ago, he nearly glazed right over one important yet unassuming person. Maria Lueken’s name was the last one he mentioned.

M. Lueken

“She’s No. 2 on our challenge ladder. I should probably mention her,” Yarbrough said, chuckling at the oversight.

Had Lueken not stepped in to seize such a central role for the ninth-ranked Wildcats, you could almost forget she’s there. Other than announcing the score, she’ll go through matches without so much as a peep. The freshman maintains a low profile, right down to the black cap that’s tugged over her face when she plays. Around the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex, her older sister, Brooke, is the Lueken more likely to be flamboyant and crack jokes. Maria just hangs back, keeps her mouth shut.

But the newest and quietest girl in the Wildcat lineup is also the one who’s made the noisiest impact so far. Thursday, Lueken plowed to a 6-0, 6-0 sweep at No. 2 singles to highlight the Cats’ 5-0 dismissal of Jeffersonville. Anna Flick was right behind with another breezy win, cruising 6-1, 6-0 at No. 3 singles. On a team stacked with five returning players, it’d be easy for Lueken and Flick to be shrouded by the rest of the talent. The two newcomers have proven they belong, though — and they announced that Tuesday with comprehensive victories at fourth-ranked Floyd Central, where Lueken dropped just three games and Flick flattened her opponent 6-2, 6-0.

“For both those girls to step in, one as a freshman, one as a sophomore, it was a nice way to start their career, no doubt,” Yarbrough said.

Lueken already presides over her court with air of measured confidence, like she’s done this hundreds of times before. In a way, she has.

Preprogrammed with loads of match experience through the tournament scene, Lueken invests more time into the offseason than maybe anyone on the team, Yarbrough noted. Wildcat senior Abby Rogers kept her No. 1 singles position this year, though it required taking two close challenge matches from Lueken to retain it.

“She knows where she stands,” Yarbrough said of Lueken. “She realizes, in my opinion, how good she is and how good she can be.”

Lueken’s body language betrays any hint of doubt, though she sheepishly smiles when admitting it’s there.

“I don’t really show my nervousness,” she said. “I keep it inside me.”

What Yarbrough likes the most is Lueken’s unbending emotional baseline. While her older sister emitted an annoyed groan when plopping a volley into the net Thursday — there weren’t many other hitches for Brooke and MeKenzie Hilsmeyer in their 6-0, 6-1 cruise at No. 2 doubles — Maria’s expression remains flatlined whether she smacks an error or a winner. There were far more of the latter Thursday. Lueken sealed match point by cranking a forehand up the line, and all Jeffersonville’s Larissa Neville could do was clap her racket against her left hand to applaud the shot after watching it whiz past.

Flick

Flick, meanwhile, burrowed into the lineup thanks to her crosscourt consistency — and with a serve that’s no longer a liability. Last season, double-faults commonly crept in. Now, Flick doesn’t even have to resort to a second serve as much, since her first serve contains more wattage and accuracy.

“If I’m serving well, I’m usually hitting my first serves in and not necessarily doing a lot of second serves, and then I’ll usually play a little bit better with my groundstrokes and hit a little bit harder and not be so dinky with the ball,” Flick said. “I’ll just overall play better and more aggressive, usually.”

With consistency, conviction follows.

“It was something that she wanted and she’s gotten better and improved, and more than anything else, she’s gotten a little confidence now,” Yarbrough said of Flick. “I hate to use the word swagger, but (there’s) a little bit of confidence about her. And she should. That’s one thing that’s tough to give kids. And sometimes that confidence is so fragile.”

Yarbrough said that applies to everyone, even the Cats’ No. 1 doubles standouts. Thursday, Ashley Rogers and Elizabeth Theil dropped their first set practically in a blink to Jeff’s Emily Lewis and Jules Jenks. But after falling 6-1, the Jasper pair eased back to take the final two sets by the same score.

Abby Rogers handled Morgan Reilly 6-3, 6-2 to help sew up the sweep for Jasper, whose main hangup early in the season is health. Brooke Lueken is coming off knee surgery, Ashley Rogers still contends with a bum shoulder and Hilsmeyer is dealing with a tender elbow. Yarbrough expects they might be held out of some matches Saturday when the Cats play three times at the Silver Creek Invitational. Not ideal, for sure, but there might be more fresh faces ready to prove themselves.

“You could really see a mix-up in the doubles this weekend and give some kids an opportunity to play,” Yarbrough said. “So we’ll see how it goes.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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