Cats master first move in chess match

Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Jasper’s Anna Flick dug in for a 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 comeback victory Tuesday at No. 2 singles and provided the clinching point in the Wildcats’ 3-2 slip past rival Floyd Central at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex. Jasper won its season opener in a rematch of last year’s semistate, which Floyd Central won 3-2.

Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — Ah, the first match of the season. Break out the blankets, get the competitive juices flowing once again ... and start thinking about the postseason.

Really. The postseason.

Jasper’s girls tennis team, which opens the season ranked 12th in the state, views things through a slightly different lens. It’s why after clipping Floyd Central 3-2 on Tuesday at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex, reversing last May’s semistate defeat to the Highlanders, the Wildcats didn’t necessarily view the result as a satisfying and vindicating triumph. More like an appetizer of what’s to come.

A quirk of Indiana’s tennis season is that the postseason draw is mapped out before the season begins — it’s the only team sport whose tournament trail is set more than a week or two before sectional play begins. In turn, that allows teams to potentially set their lineups with potential postseason foes in mind.

Again this season, the Cats (1-0) and Highlanders (0-1) could tangle again in the single-match semistate should both proceed through sectional and regional, which both did with ease last season. So that’s why any satisfaction Jasper harbored about Tuesday’s win came tinged with the feeling that if the Cats want to return to the state finals, they’ll have to replicate Tuesday’s narrow win at season’s end.

“I’m glad that we won and proved ourselves right away,” Wildcat junior Anna Flick said, “and hopefully we can do that again later in the year.”

Flick worked two hours to stamp the finishing touch on the victory, and against an opponent she’d never come close to toppling.

She’s faced Floyd Central’s Dana Frank a couple times before in summer tournaments, and Flick never remembers getting more than a few games off Frank. She guessed there may have been a 6-0, 6-0 rout in there somewhere.

“I’ve lost to her pretty bad,” Flick admitted.

Fitting with that script, Frank swiped the first set 6-1. But that’s when the byproduct of Jasper’s early-season conditioning began to kick in, Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough figured.

Flick continually flagged down shots and remained fresh while Frank began lagging, Yarbrough thought, and he said the story was similar at No. 1 singles, where Maria Lueken dropped the first set 6-1 to Italian exchange student Giorgia Rossetto but battled in the second set before surrendering in a 7-3 tiebreaker.

But one court over on the last match to conclude, Flick’s hustle and counter-punching won out. She was a step ahead of Frank and even ahead of the spectators — on match point, she punched a backhand past Frank, and there was a delayed reaction from the Wildcat supporters who didn’t realize the sharp, angled shot had dropped well inside the line.

“It just shows that it doesn’t really matter who has won in the past, and that it’s a different game, especially when you play for your (high school) team,” said Flick, who grabbed the final two sets 6-4, 6-4. “I think it’ll just help me realize that I can probably win against people that I think that are better than me — and maybe they are — but just show that I can work hard and get in the game and maybe win.”

“It was good to see her battle, it was good to see her get down and make a nice little comeback,” Yarbrough added of Flick. “Then she got a lead (up 4-1 in the third set), then she lost a lead. We wrapped a lot up in her first match there,” he finished with a laugh.

Same goes for everyone else.

Before the match, Yarbrough assured his girls that the opener would be a platform for learning. That’s how it goes with seven players in seven new positions. Emma Seger lost a 6-2, 6-2 verdict at No. 3 singles, but the Cats earned a doubles sweep, with Brooke Lueken and Emma Yarbrough sailing 6-3, 6-3 at No. 1 and Kendra Seger and Elisabeth Ahlbrand pulling away 6-4, 6-2 at No. 2.

Brooke Lueken, one of the three returners from last season, can’t forget that semistate bummer from a year ago against Floyd Central, and she had a little twinkle when noting that Tuesday’s win “kind of gives us that self-confidence boost for the beginning of the season.”

But Lueken also knows the scouting report — one of Floyd’s likely No. 1 doubles players was unavailable Tuesday, so the Cats realize they might face a fortified Highlander group should the teams meet again.

“But then again, our doubles might be different, because we’re still trying to figure out our lineup,” Lueken added. “It could be a different matchup and so we’ll just have to see, and hopefully we improve over the season so whoever we put there ... we can come out victorious.”

And that’s the one that matters. So let the chess match begin both ways, including for a Wildcat squad that figures it’ll need some time to craft an identity.

“We will keep an eye on them, and they will keep an eye on us,” Scott Yarbrough said. “And (Floyd Central coach Rick Miller) has been known to play a lot of different lineups; I think we’ll probably play more lineups than he will this year, I really do. It’ll be interesting to see what he does.”

Contact Brendan Perkins

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