Wildcat doubles derby rolls on

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper’s Alex Allen and Ben Seng celebrated a winning point as they pulled away to a 6-2, 6-2 win over Jeffersonville on Saturday morning in the Jasper Four-Team Invitational. The seventh-ranked Wildcats controlled the battle against the 12th-rated Red Devils by claiming all of their wins via straight sets in a 4-1 verdict. Jasper also collected 5-0 victories against Castle and Terre Haute North on the weekend. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — There’s an ongoing joke between Scott Yarbrough and his gaggle of doubles players. The Jasper boys tennis coach, using some brutally frank humor to sell his serious point, has told them he’s going to get shirts printed that say “Does anybody have a first serve for sale?”

He’d at least get a good bulk rate on all the threads.

The seventh-ranked Wildcats are trying to sort through the giant question of how their doubles teams are going to take shape. As of yet, there’s no hint of any resolution to the problem. Partly because so many players are potentially part of the solution.

Monesmith

At the very least there’s progress, as Yarbrough witnessed some of the improvement he’s been waiting for as the Cats went 6-0 in doubles matches in Friday and Saturday’s Jasper Four-Team Tournament, which the Wildcats claimed by blanking Castle and Terre Haute North 5-0 and dismissing No. 12 Jeffersonville 4-1.

“It’s tough. It’s tough finding that right combination, and I think we’ll continue to mix a little bit as the year goes on,” Yarbrough said. “Everybody’s a little bit different. It just depends on who we’re playing and how we’re going to match.”

Seven Wildcats are part of the still-running auditions for doubles. It’s almost become a math quiz question come to life: How many different doubles combinations are possible?

Through the first two weeks of the season, Yarbrough already has assembled seven different duos. The only pair that was used more than once this weekend was Luke Hochgesang and Logan Mathies, who plucked a 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 victory against Castle’s No. 1 doubles team Friday.

In that match, Ben Seng dealt with a demotion of sorts as the Wildcat senior who’s played No. 2 doubles the past two seasons shifted down to the JV squad for the night. He didn’t get mad. He just got better at a segment of the game that’s been his kryptonite as of late.

“It kind of took me by surprise,” Seng said of his one-day JV stint. “I just noticed I’d get with it and (start) focusing on my serve and not really getting frustrated with it, because it’ll come around.”

“We served better (Friday) night, so we kind of earned our spots back,” added Nick Monesmith, Seng’s doubles partner for two weekend matches.

Ah, yes, there’s that serve again — that crucial first strike that initiates all the Cats’ proactive blueprints in doubles. Want to get on Yarbrough’s good side? Don’t have your serve broken. That’s what Hudson Schmidt and Alex Allen accomplished in their victory Friday, as they faced just one break point the entire match and Castle never won a game the Cats served.

Joe Kemker joined the No. 1 doubles mix for Saturday’s finale against Terre Haute North, and on a few occasions, the Patriots fluttered short returns of well-placed Kemker serves. That left Hochgesang for some easy cleanup, as his count of over-the-fence overhead spikes neared double digits by the end of a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6) war won over Keaton Akers and Justin Newton.

A bit earlier on the adjacent court, Monesmith tore off his white cap in frustration when a rash of double faults at 4-3 up in the third set caused him and Seng to lose their lead. But in the next game, Monesmith coolly cracked a winning return off a sizzling incoming serve. A moment later, he took target practice with a smash that plunked a Patriot player stationed at the net.

Boom, boom, just like that, the Wildcat tandem re-energized, and Seng served out a 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 triumph.

“That’s what it takes,” Monesmith said. “You start getting down, one good shot can turn it all around. And that’s just what it seemed like today.”

As the doubles derby continues, there’s little worry on the other courts. Top two Wildcat singles players Eli Seng and Grant Weaver both chewed through three opponents at the invitational without playing a set closer than 6-2.

When it comes to doubles, Yarbrough’s riddle of who best fits with whom is complicated since all the pawns involved showcase diverse skill sets. The 6-foot-3 Allen is both the tallest and perhaps most athletic of the bunch. Schmidt is a lefty who knows how to utilize a hooking serve. Kemker “may be our best tennis talent” by his coach’s assessment. Ben Seng infuses the Cats with the hustle and energy that Yarbrough craves and also lends an element of senior know-how along with Hochgesang.

To boot, Monesmith said there’s also “the history of doubles” within the program as the Cats have always pushed their chips into strength in that half of the lineup. Last year, with eventual state runner-up duo Will Seger and Noah Moss showing the way, the Cats’ two doubles teams combined for a 48-7 record.

Seng acknowledged that more doubles losses might be a reality during the regular season. But that’s OK, he said, as long as learning occurs within the least experienced pool of doubles player Yarbrough said he’s had in his 11 seasons.

“I think we’re getting closer,” Yarbrough said. “I’d say this weekend was a step forward. Wednesday was a tough loss to Terre Haute South. Doubles did not play well. Not one of the four boys played well. We couldn’t figure out who played the best and who played the worst, and that’s not good. (Friday) night and today was much better. Better togetherness, better talking, better positive (energy).”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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