Cats earn first semi-state title since 2017

Photo by Jimmy Lafakis/The Herald
Jasper senior Grant Stratton celebrates after winning a One Doubles match against Castle on Saturday morning
in Jasper. The Wildcats captured a 4-1 victory over the Knights.


JASPER   When postseason play rolls around, it is commonplace for coaches and student-athletes to be a little bit antsy. Although Jasper head tennis coach Scott Yarbrough felt that restlessness on Saturday morning, the Wildcats (18-3) clinched a state tournament berth with their 4-1 semi-state win over Castle.

“Here’s the one thing I haven’t done — I probably haven’t slept in three weeks,” Yarbrough said. “It’s probably because I care too much. It’s not about the winning as much as it is about giving the boys the best chance to advance.”

Facing a formidable opponent in Castle, Jasper did not back down. Junior Two Singles player Max Sternberg kicked off the action with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Castle’s Rafe Hemmerlein.

Sternberg’s shutout victory established the tone for the Wildcats. Senior Grant Levy claimed Jasper’s other singles win — a 6-1, 6-0 triumph over Finn Adams at Three Singles.

Two solid doubles victories helped the Wildcats seal the match. Seniors Jobe Luebbehusen and Grant Stratton recorded a 6-2, 6-3 win over Joey Stilwell and Alex Pinkston at One Doubles, while fellow seniors Bennett Schmitt and Hudson Himsel walked away with a 6-0, 6-2 victory against Jackson Welp and Ethan White.

“Sometimes, it’s difficult to get some energy going,” Yarbrough said. “I think you can get that from your doubles teams. You’ve got two guys on the court. We have more emotional guys in doubles, too. Hudson at Two Doubles, Stratton at One Doubles, they’re more of the rah-rah. Bennett jumped a little bit today. Jobe jumped in.”

As Jasper tennis families came together to celebrate the victory, Luebbehusen echoed Yarbrough’s sentiments.

“Me and Stratton are pretty loud people in general,” Luebbehusen said. “We like talking. When you put us together on the same court, we talk a lot. When we’re talking a lot and playing good, it’s pretty dangerous. That’s what we’re known for. When we’re playing good, you’re going to hear it. That’s pretty much the bottom line.”

In the final match, Castle’s Aneesh Alapati took a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Jasper junior Justin Shultz at One Singles. Before that contest finished, the Wildcats punched their ticket to state.

“You just want to give the boys a chance to be able to do something that this senior group hasn’t quite done,” Yarbrough said. “So, it’s emotional from that point. It’s emotional for me because we have this because of my dad (Ed Yarbrough). My dad started it 50 years ago - a guy that didn’t know a damn thing about tennis. He was a basketball coach. He was a football coach. He asked to take over tennis, and he built a program that we’re just trying to make a little better each year. There’s no guarantees in the world that we get to go to the state finals.”

Saturday’s victory helped the Wildcats keep the postseason in perspective.

“We say it at the beginning of the year — winning is not the most important thing,” Yarbrough said. “It’s not. It is nice to see the fruits of your labor a little bit. You’ve put in the time. This senior group is just special.”

Jasper will return to the court against Brownsburg at noon on Friday in Carmel. That match will mark the opening round of the state quarterfinals.

“This is a big moment for us,” Luebbehusen said. “We’re ready for it.”

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