2nd time’s the charm at 3 for AhlbrandMay 24, 2017
By BRENDAN PERKINS
JASPER — It’s required a little time and a whole lot more patience than Mallory Ahlbrand started with. But she finally knows how to deal with a lobbyist.
Make that a lob-byist, since Ahlbrand realizes that’s what she’s up against many times, and the reputation of the position she plays. “It’s always known as the lob-by singles court,” Ahlbrand said of the looping strokes and sometimes interminable rallies at No. 3 singles. But Ahlbrand’s special interest has become mastering the lob-by court and solidifying her status as one of the most trusty positions for a Wildcat team that continues blasting through the postseason.
Ahlbrand helped ninth-ranked Jasper go 3-for-3 with 6-0, 6-0 singles shutouts to ditch Vincennes Rivet 5-0 in Tuesday’s regional semifinals for a chance at the program’s sixth straight regional title today. The Cats (15-4) will face Barr-Reeve (17-2) at 4:30 p.m. at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex in a match moved up an hour to deal with today’s soggy outlook, as the teams plan to play indoors if they can’t finish outside.
Ahlbrand will be ready for anything, because that comes with the territory of No. 3 singles. No one sees as vast a sample of opponents as she does.
Players who hit with topspin. Girls with funky sidespin. Beginners who bunt the ball back in play. Consistency is the common thread. “Coaches are finding athletic girls, maybe from another sport, who can keep the ball in play no matter how ugly or how pretty the stroke is,” Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough said.
Then, Ahlbrand finds herself paddling against the current on other occasions. Her opponent from top-ranked Carmel a few weeks ago hit with similar wattage as Sarah Monesmith, the Cats’ No. 1 singles player. Last week’s Terre Haute South foe swung with the type of pace as Suchi Bandaru, Jasper’s No. 2 singles player who Ahlbrand was neck-and-neck with earlier in the season when the lineup was still being settled. Ahlbrand doesn’t mind the heavy hitters and can play that way herself, but her setback to Terre Haute South came on the heels of five wins where she outscored opponents 60-1 in total games.
“It was kind of hard to adjust and I didn’t do a good job adjusting, so it can be challenging going from multiple matches where they don’t really hit the ball, to all of the sudden getting a pretty challenging match, and I get that sometimes,” Ahlbrand said.
That’s the downside of dominance, as Yarbrough contends “Mallory’s good enough to play with anybody in the state at 3 singles.” Ahlbrand and Bandaru split wins against each other in challenge matches earlier in the season, and Yarbrough surmises if Ahlbrand played No. 2 singles, she’d win at the same rate Bandaru does.
Yet Yarbrough asked for a little bit of sacrifice from his senior whose prior experience and brand of tennis is more conducive to the 3 singles slot. When it comes to Ahlbrand’s capacity for gliding around the court, chasing down returns and recovering for the next point, “she does that as well as anybody I’ve coached,” Yarbrough said.
“I guess my style is more patient, and I can play against people like that,” Ahlbrand said. “I know that’s what’s best for the team, and I don’t mind playing it again. I think having played there last year, I kind of know what I need to do to win there. Sometimes I wish I could get some more competition, but it’s also nice to know that most of the time, I’m going to be a win for the team.”
“It’s an ego check for Mallory, because she really wanted to play 2 (singles), but to be honest with you, she’s handled it so well, and I never doubted that she would,” Yarbrough added. “I’m sure when we first had that conversation it stung a little bit, but I never ever sensed anything from Mallory that wouldn’t say, ‘Team first, I’ll play where you need me to play.’”
Yarbrough had to convince Ahlbrand of the virtue of patience when she played 3 singles last season, but said she was a quick study on the discipline required. And now, her ability to crash the net and shorten points allows her to avoid what she encountered at times last year, when a single rally could drag on close to two minutes.
Oftentimes there’s little glory attached with playing 3 singles, too, right down to where Ahlbrand’s court is situated — tucked slightly out of view in a corner compared to the rest of her teammates at Jasper’s tennis complex.
“I actually kind of like it, being off on my own, kind of just lets me focus on my match and get done what I need to get done. But yeah, sometimes I’m over there, the bleachers are the furthest from me, it’s kind of like I wonder if anyone’s actually watching or not,” she said with a laugh. “But I don’t mind it. I kind of like being over there.”
Make no mistake, the rest of the Cats know Ahlbrand’s there. She’ll be the one almost always churning out wins and providing assurance along with it.
“She knows in the back of her mind she’s one of those points that we’re really, really counting on,” Yarbrough said. “We’re counting on all the girls, but she’s that one point where we know we’ve got maybe a little bit of an edge in a spot. I think at 3 singles, she’s got that for us.”
Northeast Dubois results
In the individual singles tournament also at Jasper, Northeast Dubois freshman Chloe Terwiske closed her season in a 6-3, 6-4 loss to Paoli’s Meagan Dooley. Terwiske finished the season 14-1 individually at No. 1 singles.
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