Solid seniors savoring final ride

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper seniors Abby Rogers, left, Ashley Rogers, Elizabeth Theil and MeKenzie Hilsmeyer celebrated after winning Wednesday’s regional, and Saturday, the quartet will lead the third-ranked Wildcats into a showdown with No. 6 Floyd Central in the single-match semistate at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex. Since the four burst on the scene as freshmen, they’ve combined to gather more than 300 victories.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

Distinguishing yourself in the annals of Jasper tennis history is like trying to be the best jazz artist in New Orleans. Sure, you may be expert at the sport but there are plenty of others who’ve been just as talented, just as accomplished.

That’s why everyone surrounding the Wildcat girls program has been savoring every last drop of the season this spring. Coach Scott Yarbrough isn’t certain the last time he had four seniors who were — to borrow a phrase from one of them, MeKenzie Hilsmeyer — so solid. He’s not sure when the next time four classmates will join forces to be so decorated as a unit.

After four years with better than 300 individual wins among them, Hilsmeyer, Abby Rogers, Ashley Rogers and Elizabeth Theil will play their final match Saturday at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex when the third-ranked Wildcats (19-2) face off with No. 6 Floyd Central (19-4) at 10 a.m. in the single-match semistate. In a match expected to be so tight, Yarbrough will surely dispense his share of coaching at the fence.

Don’t be surprised if he sits back and just tries to enjoy the show, though.

“I told somebody the other day that next year I’ll have to start coaching again,” Yarbrough said. “I’ll be honest with you — I try to, at times, just sit and enjoy and watch them play and enjoy that part of it.

“I’ve kind of just been riding the wave. I don’t even say anything to them. I don’t help them. I just let them play and win and take credit for it.”

“Told you we’re solid,” Hilsmeyer interjected, eliciting laughter from her three classmates.
She is right, though.

Yarbrough hasn’t hammered out the specifics yet, but he estimates that by the time his seniors are done, they will have fused for nearly 350 wins and possibly fewer than 50 losses in their careers.
“Solid,” the jesterly Hilsmeyer slipped in after Yarbrough presented those figures.

That counts both varsity and JV victories, though not many of the latter compose the total since Abby Rogers and Theil jumped into the varsity mix as freshmen. Ashley followed as a sophomore, merging with Theil for two marches to the individual doubles state finals. Hilsmeyer didn’t join the varsity until her junior year, but by Yarbrough’s assessment, the No. 2 doubles player has been playing a brand of doubles as of late that’s nearly on par with Ashley and Theil, a two-time first-team all-state duo.

Even for people who’ve never set foot in the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex, the names resonate.

“Our guidance counselor commented (on) us today,” Hilsmeyer said Wednesday, after the Cats dispatched of Northeast Dubois to grab their 12th regional title and second straight. “He goes, ”˜Are you one of those tennis players?’ I was like, ”˜Yeah,’ and he was like, ”˜You’re one of those four really solid seniors, aren’t you?’ He was like, ”˜I’ve heard a lot about you four just being really solid.’
“We like our compliments,” Hilsmeyer mused, finishing the thought.

The kudos have been well-earned.

Yarbrough earmarked the group for success when they were youngsters — though max potential doesn’t always materialize, he realizes. But the group that nicknamed itself the “Frosh Four” when they entered high school has backed it up: The Wildcats were ranked No. 5 statewide to end the 2011 season, fifth again to finish last year and sit third this spring.

“I think we’re just solid as a four. I don’t know of any other sport that has their seniors that all know each other as well as we do and have the same goals as we do,” Hilsmeyer said.

They’re equally valued for their shades of personality.

The driven Theil, who considered being a walk-on for Ball State University’s team but will opt for academics only in college, “eats up tennis like there’s no tomorrow,” Yarbrough said. The coach has kidded with Hilsmeyer that he wished she played more tennis, as she’s set to attend IUPUI to play golf. Still, Yarbrough said her jocular presence is “a great complement to the rest of this,” which includes the twin dynamic of the Rogerses.

“I don’t know that those two always get along real well on the court,” Yarbrough said.
“Sure we do,” Ashley innocently insisted.

“Abby’s got a little bit more of the outgoing, take-charge (attitude), where Ashley is just the sweet, innocent one,” Yarbrough continued.

“She’s not innocent,” Abby responded, crinkling her nose.

The twins partnered in doubles together just once in their high school career — during senior night their sophomore year, when a few non-varsity seniors were elevated to the varsity order and Team Rogers briefly stepped down in the lineup, swamping a most unfortunate No. 1 JV doubles team from Castle. Their distance in the lineup wasn’t intentional on Yarbrough’s part. It’s just that they both discovered their preferred niche early in their careers — Ashley in doubles and Abby in singles, where she’s assumed the No. 1 post for the last two years.

As far as the twin rivalry, that might just be part of the obligatory show. On every bus trip, they’re side by side and constantly chattering, which Yarbrough represented by making two yapping-head figures with his hands.  

“They’re pretty tight as twins,” he said. “But as far as (tennis) goes, they’re really different.”

Their bond has been sturdy since all four seniors came through Precious Blood School. And the squabbles have been few, especially after they weathered Bed Gate their freshman year, when Theil and Abby pulled rank on Hilsmeyer and Ashley on an overnight hotel stay at the Carmel Invitational.

“We were all putting our stuff down, kind of chilling, and Abby goes, ”˜We get the beds!” Hilsmeyer said. “And (Ashley and I) were like, ”˜Why?’

“We’re varsity. We have a match tomorrow morning,” was the rationale. “And they put their stuff on the bed. And Ashley and I, we got the air mattress and the pull-out couch.”

“We’ve moved forward since those days,” Yarbrough joked.

Hilsmeyer and Ashley both recall the story with smiles, remembering it only because it’s funny. Not because there’s lingering animosity.

Plus, they could stage a grand bed revenge should the Cats book another trip to next weekend’s state finals. The semistate battle against a Floyd Central team the Cats edged 3-2 in their season opener is the final hurdle, and Jasper’s veterans don’t seem to be stressing.

“I think knowing this is our last shot at going to state ... it kind of calms me down, like ”˜This is my last shot, I’m going to give it everything,’” Ashley said. “I think everyone feels that way.”

All they want is two more weeks and a few more wins to tack on to a ridiculous total.

“These four will be replaced, but they’ll be tough to replace, there’s no doubt about that,”
Yarbrough said. “From a leading standpoint, from a work ethic standpoint, from a wins standpoint and commitment standpoint, they’re top of the line. And I think they’ve always known that.”

They’re solid, all right.

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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