9 is fine for Wildcats as regional champions

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Jasper's Bennett Schmitt hits a groundstroke in his No. 2 singles match during Wednesday's tennis regional championship in Jasper. Jasper won 5-0. For more photos from the match, click here.


JASPER — In response to the quintessentially absurd post-match question about whether winning, in general, and a ninth consecutive regional tennis championship, in particular, ever gets old, Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough indulged: “Never. Never.”

It’s a good thing, because the Wildcats do an awful lot of it. Their 5-0 sweep of Bloomfield in the regional final Wednesday at Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex was the ninth straight regional title for the boys, and the 25th overall.

“I think a lot of people carry a chip about Jasper, in general, and the tennis program, probably with it,” Yarbrough acknowledged. “I think sometimes success is a double-edged sword. I think from the program standpoint, we’re proud of what we accomplish. We don’t apologize for winning. And in the same sense, you’re going to get people who don’t like it because you do a lot of winning, and they want to find a chink in that armor.”

The Jasper armor is brightly polished and unscathed, and the Wildcats will begin pursuit of their 13th semi-state title at noon Saturday on the Jasper courts when they face Evansville Reitz. Jasper failed to make it past semi-state last season, which ended a seven-year string of trips to the state quarterfinals. A win Saturday sends the Wildcats to Carmel on Oct. 18, where a win puts them at North Central High School on Oct. 19 for semifinals in the morning and finals in the afternoon.

In Wednesday’s win over Bloomfield, Jasper had only one set last longer than eight games. Max Sternberg posted a 6-2, 6-1 win at No. 1 singles, and Grant Levy emerged with a 6-0, 6-1 victory at No. 3 singles. It looked like it might be a short day for Bennett Schmitt at No. 2 singles when he won the first set 6-0, but Baylin Graf rallied in the second set before Schmitt prevailed, 7-5. In doubles play, Mitchell Kluemper and Grant Stratton rolled at No. 1 doubles, 6-1, 6-0, and Hudson Himsel and Jobe Luebbehusen took the No. 2 doubles match, 6-1, 6-1.

“I’m very proud of what the boys accomplished,” Yarbrough said. “I’m proud from No. 1 all the way to No. 16. All the kids play a part, all of them want to be a part. Although there’s only seven playing, we accept this as a program, not just the seven guys going out and winning matches.”

Then Yarbrough gave a glimpse into the secret of Jasper’s success, which is a secret everybody knows, but not everybody practices.

“No offense to anybody, but [tonight] was a pretty easy match for us. But I think that’s because our kids are putting in time that other kids aren’t. We have kids that play just tennis, and we have some kids that play other sports, and our program is successful because of that. The kids take advantage of what we offer them, and I think that helps us get through sectionals and regionals just because of what they do in the off-season,” the coach said.

“The sectionals and the regionals we’ve managed to accumulate, to me, is a 365-day accomplishment. It’s not an accomplishment for me, it’s an accomplishment for the program, the boys. When the season ends, we’ll have kids who put in time over the winter, and we have kids who go to other sports. We have a lot of tennis-baseball guys, a couple of basketball guys in there. To me, it’s a sign that we’ve done the offseason work that we need to do. We are blessed because of what my dad built, and the kids and the parents believe in it and let us do it that way. I don’t know whether you want to call it a system or a program or what, but it works. So we’ve tried to advance our program, and we like to think we’re one of the Top 10 programs in the state. I like to think we do it the right way, and give kids the opportunity to be part of something special. To me, that all comes with winning your sectional and regional.”

Yarbrough, now in his 17th year at the Jasper helm, is quick to point out that the foundation built by his father in the 33 years he headed the tennis program continues to pay impressive dividends.

“I’ve said this numerous times: It’s easier to continue what my dad started than have to start a program. This thing is special for numerous reasons. It’s special because of who started it, and my connection to it, and playing in it, and it’s special because of what we’ve accomplished over the years, and it’s special because of the people involved,” Yarbrough said.

Northeast Dubois' Luke Harder and Ethan Ziegler face Washington during Wednesday's individual doubles sectional in Jasper. Northeast Dubois won 6-1, 4-6, 7-5. For more photos from the match, click here.

“This is the 50th year that a Yarbrough has run this program. My dad did it for 33, and this is my 17th, so that, to me, is something neat and special. I think the success of the program speaks on the consistency. What dad built was something really, really strong. We want to keep the pedal to the metal, and that’s something I promised my father I would do while I was still alive. There’s a lot of people who have put a lot of time into this program. My face is at the front of that because of being the head coach, but winning sectionals and regionals encompass all of that.”

While the Wildcats were adding another title to their legacy, two Northeast Dubois players were continuing their postseason journey in the championship game of the individual sectional. The tandem of Ethan Ziegler and Luke Harder punched their ticket to Bedford as sectional champions when they outlasted Owen Gray and Austin Gere of Washington, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5. The victory swells the duo’s season record to 20-3.

Meanwhile, Reece Bauer of Northeast Dubois was officially crowned individual singles sectional champion when Turner Royal of Bloomfield was defeated. Sporting a 23-2 record, Bauer heads to Bedford for regional play on Oct. 19.

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