Cats sail, Raiders survive to title clash

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper's Ben Seng congratulated his doubles' partner Alex Allen on a point scored during the boys tennis IHSAA Sectional at Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex in Jasper on Wednesday. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — No. 1 singles players Dugan Kippenbrock and Tyler Gray had been playing for more than two hours at Wednesday’s boys tennis sectional at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex when something finally clicked for Gray.


Maybe it was the move to the indoor facility after a downpour interrupted their match after two sets. Or maybe it was his back, which had bothered him early but began to loosen up in the third set. Or it could have been his serves, which began to explode off his racket. But Gray said there was a pretty easy explanation.

“I just wanted to get it over with,” he said with a smirk. “That was the main reason. Get it over with and then come over here (with my teammates).”

On a night filled with quick matches and lopsided scores, Kippenbrock of Heritage Hills and Gray of Southridge were a revelation to those ready for competitive tennis, playing a back-and-forth 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 match in which both players made runs, smashed balls at the net and created points off good play, not mistakes.

Gray’s three-set triumph nudged Southridge to a 3-2 victory and a date with No. 9 Jasper at 4:30 this afternoon in the championship. The Wildcats quickly rolled through Forest Park, 5-0.

It was beautiful evening until a downpour moved everything into the indoor facility at Jasper High School. At that point, only three matches remained as all five Jasper slots had won quickly in two sets. Grant Weaver (No. 2 singles) and Logan Mathies (No. 3 singles) both won 6-0, 6-0. No. 1 player Eli Seng defeated Forest Park’s Blake Emmert 6-0, 6-1. Luke Hochgesang and Joe Kemker took down Bryan Hurst and Andy Schlachter 6-0, 6-2 at No. 1 doubles, and Ben Seng and Alex Allen were victorious in a 6-2, 6-0 match against Josh Thomas and Matthew Nonte.

After tinkering with the second doubles spot for most of the season, Yarbrough has finally settled on Allen and Seng. He said he could have played between six or seven combos but chose the quick, athletic pair because of their complementary skill sets.

“(The coaches) thought they were a little better combination up at the net and at putting balls away,” Yarbrough said. “When we sat down and started making comparisons, we didn’t see a lot of differences (between him and the other players) ... (but Allen) covered the net a little bit better, footwork was a little bit better, and Allen brings a little athleticism with his 6-foot-4 build. The other thing we run into a lot at No. 2 doubles is a lot of teams want to play lobby, lobby. Lob the ball, lob the ball, lob the ball. And Allen being 6-foot-4, with a pretty big overhead, seals the deal. Ben’s not tall. He’s 5-foot-8, 5-foot-9. So you bring another 6, 7 inches into two doubles and then that makes a big difference.”

Seng, as a three-year starter at the position with two years of experience playing in the state finals, was expected to earn the spot eventually. So it came down to Allen, a basketball player, to beat out a competitive bunch.

“He’s very athletic and that is something nice to have in doubles,” Yarbrough said. He covers the net, wingspan is a bit more. ... Just thought Allen and Ben made a better combination. It was a tough decision.”

Allen, a sophomore receiving his first varsity time this season, agrees with Yarbrough’s assessment and has found a comfortable partner with Seng.

“I enjoy it and I think he does, too,” he said. “I feel like we both play with a lot of energy and whenever one person gets down, the other person always picks the other up.”

The Rangers (4-11) could have used a bit of a pick-me-up, although coach Dean Blessinger said the scores did not necessarily reflect his team’s play. On a night they had nothing to lose, many Forest Park players played two hard serves, rather than letting up on the second one, just to roll the dice a little bit.

The Rangers were well aware of the type of program they were up against, and Blessinger hopes seeing that talent up close will work as motivation to improve.

“Hopefully my guys don’t pout and what they do is look at that match and look at how Jasper played and say, ”˜This is how I’ve got to learn to play,’” he said. “And tennis is not a birthright here. These Jasper kids work. ... So the message to my guys is, ”˜You’ve got to find repetition. You can’t show up three months before the season or at the start and expect you’re going to compete with these guys. It doesn’t happen.’

“We faced a really, really good Jasper squad, so no shame in what we did tonight,” he added.

Rachel Mummey/The Herald Southridge's
Tyler Gray forehanded the ball during the boys tennis IHSAA Sectional at Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex in Jasper on Wednesday.

On the other side of the court, Southridge (12-5) cleaned up early with two doubles victories, as No. 1 pair Chad and Cam O’Bryan cruised in two 6-0 sets and Andrew Recker and Evan Julian won 6-1, 6-0. But all three singles matches were competitive bouts. Heritage Hills’ Keith Woolems defeated Jose Ferrusquia 5-7, 6-2, (10-8) at No. 3 singles and Patriot sophomore Tyler Waggoner topped Mitch Steinkamp 6-4, 6-4 at No. 2 singles. The win was a testament to the work he’s put in during the offseason, Waggoner said.

“(I) worked hard,” he said. “Went to girls practices and open courts and just worked as hard as I could until I started improving.”

“It feels pretty good and then it makes you want to get better,” he added.

The Patriots (5-10) ended a season that saw flashes of the improvements to come. Most of the team is returning. The biggest loss will be Kippenbrock, who’s been a mainstay on the varsity squad for the last three seasons.

“It’s a shame that our senior (Kippenbrock) is leaving, but we’ve got a young team and a lot of people coming in so I think we’ll be all right,” Waggoner said. “It’s going to be challenging (to replace Dugan). He’s a pretty good player. It’s some pretty big shoes to fill.”

For all their hard work, the Raiders are rewarded with a match against Jasper. Gray has no misunderstanding about the challenge ahead, but he’s approaching the match without worries about the results.

“They’re a great team,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to win a couple off of them. So we’re just going to go out there and have fun. ... We’ll make it a memorable one.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli

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