Cats’ purists embrace doubles details

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Elizabeth Theil, left, and Ashley Rogers finished runner-up in last year’s doubles state finals and will return to Indianapolis on Saturday in an effort to go one further with a state championship. The Jasper juniors received a bye into the semifinals and will face either Fort Wayne Dwenger or Bloomington North in their first match.


By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

For 20 nonstop minutes Wednesday, Jasper tennis coaches Scott Yarbrough and Tim Swartzentruber hammered shot after shot at the feet of Ashley Rogers and Elizabeth Theil. For tennis players, the half-volley drill — one of the toughest shots in tennis — is about as compelling as pulling weeds.

Theil and Rogers never let on. They kept bouncing on their toes, waiting for the next shot to scoop off the court. Yarbrough exhausted the entire hopper of tennis balls, but that didn’t signal the end of the hitting session.

“Hold on,” he told them before another round of half-volleys began. “I’m not done with you yet.”

Again, Theil and Rogers didn’t mind. They immerse themselves in the details of doubles, which at the high school level makes them a rare breed. Even at this coming weekend’s individual state finals at Indianapolis North Central, where Theil and Rogers will be one of six teams pursuing the state championship in doubles, some of the state’s elite doubles teams will be composed of singles converts — players who can make a splash in doubles behind raw skill, but who vary from Jasper’s duo that derives pride in being doubles specialists.

Ask Theil and Rogers if they have any interest in singles — the glamour positions on most other teams — and you’ll get laughs and vigorous head-shaking.

“When challenges started,” Theil said of preseason singles challenge matches in practice, “I was just ready for doubles to start.”

From the time Theil and Rogers finished runner-up to Highland’s Aby Madrigal and Elizabeth Quinn as sophomores in last year’s state championship match, Yarbrough made it clear their future partnership was never a guarantee.

But Theil and Rogers also knew the same thing Yarbrough did: It’s tough to break up the fusion of a doubles duo that’s now 50-4 over the last two seasons.

“Last year at the end of state, he was like, ‘It’s not for certain that you guys are going to play again next year,’” Rogers said. “But we kind of felt like we were going to.”

Rogers and Theil’s last two wins (over Columbus North and Indianapolis Cathedral) came against doubles squads ranked first in their respective districts. Jasper’s duo lost the middle sets of both those matches, and Yarbrough sees a link in their ebb and flow: When Rogers and Theil retreat to the baseline, they struggle to win games. When they creep forward, they can dominate.

“It just comes natural now that we don’t stay back on the baseline,” Theil said. “We’ve been playing a style of game ever since last year and we’re not going to change it now, considering how far we’ve gotten. We’re just going to keep doing that, stay aggressive, and do what we do best.”

And as their coach sees it, Theil and Rogers execute that as well as any twosome in recent memory within a program known for its doubles force.

“Here’s the big difference with girls and guys: Girls do not have a tendency to like being at the net. The hand quickness and the hand-eye coordination and the touch and the feel ... Ashley and Elizabeth both do that very well. It’s a unique combination,” said Yarbrough, adding that Theil and Rogers’ style stirs memories of Erin Giesler and Dana Schitter, the Jasper pair that claimed the individual doubles state title in 1999.

“From a serving standpoint and a returning standpoint, we’ve probably got girls that return and serve as well as they do. But closing in on the net and reading each other and covering each other and the volleys themselves is what separates them.”

Enough so, Yarbrough hopes, to be state championship worthy.

Evansville Memorial, which dealt Rogers and Theil both losses this season, has been eliminated from the individual tourney. Highland is again in contention, this time with Aby Madrigal partnering with twin sister Vanessa as the juniors are unbeaten at 14-0. Jasper already has a bye into the semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday and will meet the survivor of Friday’s match between Fort Wayne Dwenger’s Elizabeth Maxson and Audrey Rang (21-0) and Bloomington North’s Courtney Baugh and Megan Coghlan (20-2).

A year ago at this time, Yarbrough was trying to convince Theil and Rogers they were good enough to swipe a state championship. No need for that for this trip. Rogers said she feels more prepared this go-round, and remembers the feeling that “it’s not fun being second place.”

The goal of upgrading that finish by one spot has been a year in the making, almost exactly.

“Ever since we were runner-up,” Rogers said with a smile.

“Last year after our match knowing we could possibly play together again (this year), we had to get one more step further,” Theil added. “We can do it. I know we can do it.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com