Before paths split, Cat seniors unite in last run

Photo by Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jasper’s Suchi Bandaru charged through a 6-0, 6-0 shutout win on the Wildcats’ indoor courts Wednesday as part of a 5-0 sweep of Barr-Reeve in the girls tennis regional championship. The ninth-ranked Wildcats will play Saturday’s single-match semistate on their home courts, facing either 20th-ranked Evansville Memorial or Gibson Southern at noon. For more photos from the match, click here.


JASPER — Consider it a triple-win day for Jillian Seger and Kathleen Messmer. A comfortable individual victory for Jasper’s No. 2 doubles pair. Another team regional coronation for the rest of their Wildcat compatriots. And top it all off with a dollop of flattery at the end.

With their 6-0, 6-3 triumph complete in Jasper’s 5-0 shutout win that shifted indoors on a rainy Wednesday, Seger and Messmer were chatting with their Barr-Reeve foes, who inquired about what the next moves will be for each senior once they head to college in a few months.

“Our opponents asked us, ‘Where are you guys going?’ And we’re like, ‘IU and Purdue,’ and they’re like, ‘Are you playing there?’ And we’re like, ‘no,’” Seger said with a laugh, drawing out the “no” to indicate that, nope, they aren’t quite in that caste of playing Division I tennis.

Yet Seger and Messmer are reveling in a couple other things at the moment, including a sixth consecutive regional tennis title and another romp through the state tournament — as well as the last days of being allies before Jasper’s three seniors branch off on rivaling vectors in a few months.

Messmer is bound for Purdue. Mallory Ahlbrand opted for the University of Kentucky. And as the one headed for Bloomington, Seger is the one caught in the crossfire as the future Indiana Hoosier.

“We always joke around about how me and Mallory both hate her school,” Messmer said.

“Yeah, nobody likes me,” Seger added, feigning a glum look.

The friendly shots are occasionally fired, such as during the team’s senior night a few weeks ago when each of the Wildcat seniors received gift collages that included monogrammed rain jackets and decorative wall squares of IU, PU and UK in the colors of their future schools. The pails that included food and other little presents became symbolically competitive for a moment.

“Her dad kept raising the IU (bucket) higher than the Purdue and the UK, saying IU’s better,” Messmer said of Seger, who comes from a family teeming with IU graduates. “So we like to joke around about it.”

Messmer’s family routinely tailgates at the IU-Purdue football Bucket Game whether it’s in Bloomington or West Lafayette, and she even sounded enthusiastic about the prospect of catching a basketball game at Assembly Hall. “Whether it’s at IU or Purdue, hopefully we’ll run into each other and can make some visits,” she said.

It would’ve been no surprise had Ahlbrand opted for one of those paths. Her mom Susan is an IU grad, her father Jason started out at Purdue as a football walk-on and has been a Boiler guy from a young age, her older sister Elisabeth is in school at Bloomington now, and her younger brothers pull for Purdue. Mallory was more in the middle, tending to side with the Purdue allegiance of the family. She was never necessarily a Kentucky fan but felt the tug of something less conventional.

“I kind of knew that I wanted something different,” said Ahlbrand, who cranked out her fourth straight 6-0, 6-0 postseason shutout Wednesday at No. 3 singles. “A lot of people go to IU here, and I like Jasper people, but I kind of just wanted to, you know, get out a little bit. I heard a lot of good things about Kentucky, and I just thought I’d check it out, so my mom and I went down for a visit and I just loved it. It’s a great size, great school. I just decided it was a pretty good fit for me.”

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Jasper’s Kathleen Messmer, who served in last week’s sectional as doubles partner Jillian Seger stood ready, is among three seniors who helped the Wildcats claim the program’s 16th regional title.

Ahlbrand’s tennis team has similarly been on a quest for discovering that right comfort level, particularly with Jasper’s doubles duos that were mixed and matched much of the year. The Wildcats (16-4) figure they finally located something that works, with the senior combo of Messmer and Seger at No. 2 doubles and the junior pair of Olivia Yarbrough and Caroline Theil at No. 1. Both doubles pairs executed 6-0, 6-3 wins Wednesday against Barr-Reeve (17-3), while Sarah Monesmith (6-2, 6-2 at No. 1) and Suchi Bandaru (6-0, 6-0 at No. 2) coasted through the other singles victories.

“It took a while to get used to, ‘OK, I’m used to playing with this person,’ and then, ‘Oh, I’ve got a new partner,’” Messmer said. “A few matches before sectional, like the week before, we set the lineup, and that’s when we really started making a connection and playing better together.”

“I love having Jillian down at 2 doubles, because she played there last year and she brings some leadership, and Kathleen brings a young lady who’s worked hard to get into that varsity lineup and put in her time, and she’s waited patiently,” Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough added. “It was a rough road there for a while, but we’ve finally got that hopefully smoothed out. The one thing (Seger and Messmer) do as well as our 1 doubles team is they serve the ball really well. They may be even a little more consistent at times with the serving. But they’re starting to jell, and I think our 1 doubles is too. These last couple weeks have been really good for both doubles teams.”

The awaited next step comes Saturday at noon at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex, where ninth-ranked Jasper faces the winner of today’s delayed matchup between No. 20 Evansville Memorial (16-3) and Gibson Southern (18-2) in the single-match semistate. The Cats know the need to compartmentalize, given the semistate’s timing in an always-loaded week.

Finals are this week, and some Wildcats had books open studying as they sat courtside during Wednesday’s match. After Friday evening’s commencement ceremony, all three tennis seniors have their graduation parties directly afterward — and Seger remembers when her sister Kendra played a few years ago, people stayed at her party for a few hours after she had to retire to bed at 11 p.m. to rest up for semistate.

“Focus,” Messmer said of this weekend’s necessary buzzword. “We’ve just got to keep our mind focused on tennis, and then we can enjoy the weekend after that.”

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