Jeeps display ability, but No. 9 Jasper sparklesOctober 9, 2013
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
JASPER — Fast and furious, the victories rolled in. The wins spoke as much to Jasper’s regality as they did Northeast Dubois’ ability.
The Wildcat boys tennis team tends to be at its best when confronted with a test or a challenge. Northeast Dubois offered it. Jasper mastered it.
The ninth-ranked Cats swept away the Jeeps’ perfection in a 5-0 regional semifinal triumph Tuesday at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex. Prior to facing a Jeep team that had dropped just three individual matches all season and still aglow from the program’s first sectional championship last week, Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough sat his team down and emphasized the potential challenge that existed.
The message found som e ears. Yarbrough realized that in a hurry by scanning the scores, as the Wildcats galloped to 5-0 leads on four courts and a 4-1 advantage on the other.
“I don’t want to say it was a rah-rah speech, but I really tried to let my guys know that this (Northeast Dubois) team — first of all, had a great year, won a sectional — and even though their sectional doesn’t match our schedule, they were going to come in here and give us everything they had on our courts. And if we weren’t prepared, we were going to have our hands full,” Yarbrough said. “I warned them over and over and over, and they listened. They were mentally prepared, we were focused.”
The Jeeps (18-1) had been unbreakable at two positions all season, but the Cats (16-3) handed them their first defeats at No. 2 doubles, where Ben Seng and Alex Allen topped Ethan Kieffner and Patrick Betz 6-0, 6-2, and at No. 3 singles, where Logan Mathies handled Cayden Knies 6-1, 6-1.
Eli Seng granted just one game to Jeep senior standout Tyler Haas at No. 1 singles, and Grant Weaver’s 6-0, 6-2 downing of Gage Knies at No. 2 completed a singles sweep by three guys whose efficiency has become expected, if not underappreciated.
“They’re awfully good, and they showed it tonight,” Yarbrough said of Eli Seng, Weaver and Mathies.
No arguments from the Jeeps, as coach Tracy Gutgsell realized her guys met “a whole different level of tennis than what we’re used to.”
The Jeeps did recover from Jasper’s suffocating start in most matches, though, and the best consolation prize came at No. 1 doubles. After a first-set blanking, Jeep senior Bill Schepers and junior Tristan Linne gained an immediate service break and sustained it for a few games, leading 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2.
“We just got aggressive. Aggression’s our key factor, that’s what makes most our game (work),” Linne said.
“We settled in, we found out what their weaknesses are, what their strengths are. We knew we could compete with them after the first set. We fought back.”
The Cats can also play that game, though, and Joe Kemker and Luke Hochgesang plucked the final four games of the match. They cataloged a 6-0, 6-4 victory in a match that included “maybe a few more butterflies and worries,” admitted Kemker, one of three Jasper doubles players performing in the regional for the first time. For Jasper, it’s three matches down, two steps to go in the Cats’ master plan.
“We want to make it to state, but we’re not going to jump too many steps,” Kemker said. “We want to make sure we come out and play our next regional match pretty focused. We do want to make it far, we think we can, but we’re not going to look that far yet.”
The next step comes in this afternoon’s championship at 5:30 against Washington (21-3), a team Jasper blitzed 5-0 in the regular season without playing a set closer than 6-2. Tuesday’s match aligned with the same trend: an able opponent meets an indomitable frontrunner.
“Probably the word of the night was ”˜sharp,’” Yarbrough said. “We really kept our focus and didn’t let the foot off the throttle at all.”
All the while, though, respect permeated.
Several Wildcats exchanged handshakes and chatter with Gage and Cayden Knies, who grew up playing in Jasper’s summer tennis program. And the match included a light moment in the second set of the No. 1 singles bout. When Haas misfired a ball that wedged itself just below the top of the fence, Eli Seng jumped in several unsuccessful swats at the ball. He finally asked for an assist from Haas, who’s about 5 inches taller and knocked the ball loose, earning applause from the crowd — and from Seng, who clapped his hand against his racket in appreciation.
The Jeeps’ first visit to regional got them thinking about a return trip, though they’ll move on without four seniors “who’ve been the hub of our team for the last four years,” Gutgsell said. Haas — a three-year No. 1 singles player whose older brother Kyle was the top singles player three years before that — will graduate along with Gage Knies, Schepers and Kieffner.
The good news? The Jeep JV squad tasted similar success this season, plowing through the regular season without a loss.
“These guys will definitely be missed. It’s been a while since we didn’t have a Haas on the team; what are we going to do without a Haas on the team? We’ve got another Knies still going,” Gutgsell said. “But, we’ll start over next year and some of our JV players are ready to get in there.”
Contact Brendan Perkins at email@example.com.
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