Raider recruiting nets long-armed doubles aid

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

HUNTINGBURG — There’s no telling where Chad O’Bryan’s serve will land.
In the neighborhood of the baseline. A foot or four wide of the outer doubles alley. O’Bryan sprays it anywhere and everywhere.

Julian


You’ll have to excuse him along with Southridge’s other three doubles players. They’re new at this sort of thing.

“We’re basketball players trying to play tennis,” O’Bryan joked.

Given that, they are blessed with at least some aim. Their strokes are still being refined, but Thursday in Huntingburg they were imposing enough to spur the Raiders past Heritage Hills 4-1 in a bout of Pocket Athletic Conference neighbors.

The theme for the Patriots was that it was a struggle getting the ball past guys who’d form perhaps the best four-man pickup basketball team that could be assembled within a tennis squad. O’Bryan towers at 6-foot-7, his brother Cam is 6-3, Evan Julian stands nearly eye-to-eye with Cam and Corbin Neu is 6-1. Their scores Thursday nearly matched their heights — just a tick shorter — as the O’Bryans prevailed 6-0, 6-1 at No. 1 doubles and Julian and Neu sailed 6-0, 6-0 at No. 2 for Southridge (2-4, 1-1).

Raider coach Larry Kieffner’s only lament is that his team’s season is nearly half over, because “now they’re starting to play a little bit,” he said. Even if that pesky serve still poses occasional problems.

After Chad double-faulted one of a handful of times in his first service game of the second set, Cam made a motion with his arms toward his brother as if to say seriously? Chad admits the serve frustrates him, and his grandfather Jerry Altstadt and assistant coach Michael Olinger are both trying to get him to apply more spin to the ball to foster accuracy.

But Chad pointed out, with a wry smile, that Cam’s serve can become unwieldy, too.

“He’s double-faulted a few times. One time he double-faulted a whole game. That’ll happen,” Chad said.

So will good moments, as their athletic ability and intimidation factor can surface.

At one point Thursday, Cam belted an overhead smash that jumped the fence and sent Kieffner across the parking lot to retrieve. Later, Chad’s scorching putaway nearly beheaded a Patriot player stationed short in the court.

The O’Bryans were part of a recruiting sweep last season, as Kieffner went to Neu with one simple request: “Could you get all the guys who don’t play football to play tennis?” The campaign also netted Julian — whose serve may be barely harder than a gentle tap — but who’s also witnessed strides along with the good-natured razzing of teammates.

“The beginning of the year when I’d serve, these guys would laugh at me,” Julian said.

“We still laugh at you,” clarified Chad, who was within earshot.

“They still laugh. But not as much. Not as hard, I guess,” Julian added. “It’s getting better, and just all of my game’s gotten better.”

The thread is similar with the Patriots (4-2, 2-1) as Heritage Hills coach Brian Oxley continues to see the sort of incremental growth he wants.

They lost Thursday, but Oxley noted the way that his No. 1 doubles players utilize their strengths to become better not just individually but as a pair, as Pierce Brown is strong with serves and at the net while Dalton Gray is more a consistent baseliner.

And Tyler Waggoner was scrapping back from 4-1 down in the third set, Oxley gushed about his sophomore’s improvement. Last year, he won one match. This season, he’s already won five matches in the same position at No. 2 singles after rallying by Southridge’s Mitch Steinkamp 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

“That play right there is a perfect example,” Oxley said as Waggoner poked a shallow forehand winner. “That play last year, he would have tried to kill it. He’s learned that sometimes your best shot isn’t necessarily a hard shot, it’s a placement shot. I can’t say enough about what he’s done.”
The rest of the day belonged to the Raiders and their good-time crew of athletes who do things a little differently.

No. 1 singles player Tyler Gray, who defeated Dugan Kippenbrock 6-2, 6-3, rocked knee-high white socks spotted with small pink breast cancer ribbons. Kieffner, who gave Gray the leftover pair of socks, asked him after his match if he wanted a new pair.

“No, these are hot,” Gray proclaimed. In both senses, Gray said — attractive and also suffocatingly hot under the especially thick cotton cover.

Kieffner added that Thursday may have been his team’s best match of the season, and to him, the highlight was Jose Ferrusquia. Filling in at No. 3 singles as Andrew Recker attended his grandfather’s funeral, Ferrusquia hadn’t won a varsity set all season. That changed in a hurry as Ferrusquia ripped off the final nine games of the match after trailing Keith Woolems 5-4 in the first set.

“He is really a hard-working kid. He has little tennis experience, too,” Kieffner said. “But if we could get everybody to work as hard as he does, we’d improve even more.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com




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