Cats shout their way to 13th straight title

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Jasper senior Eli Franks, left, and freshman Max Sternberg celebrate winning the tennis sectional championship against Forest Park on Thursday in Jasper. Franks and Sternberg both won their matches and the Wildcats won the sectional championship for the 13th year in a row by a score of 5-0 over the Rangers. For more photos from the match, click here.


JASPER — It’s no secret that Mickey Kluemper can let emotions overcome him at certain times out on the tennis court.

So it’s no surprise that after a few big points in a comeback three-set victory at his No. 2 singles spot the Jasper senior let out a few yelps of excitement.

“I am overly emotional during matches,” said Kluemper with a laugh following his 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 victory over Forest Park’s Nathan Jarboe in the Wildcats 5-0 victory over the Rangers. The win sealed Jasper’s 13th straight sectional championship victory. “Once I’m in my match and I’m ready to go, I’m just always amped up. If I win a point I scream and if I lose a point I scream, but overall (tonight) I think I played a pretty good match.”

Kluemper, who was playing in his first sectional championship since his sophomore season, is described by Jasper head coach Scott Yarbrough as “you never quite know what you’re going to get.”

While Yarbrough says that Kluemper’s emotions can sometimes get the best of him, when he’s able to control them and use them as a support and not a crutch then you get results like you saw in Thursday’s sectional championship.

“Early on, Mickey was making too many mistakes and then he started to get angry and frustrated with himself,” Yarbrough said. “But once he got control of his emotions then things fell back in place.”

Even in defeat, Jarboe was excited about the experience he got playing in such a close match even though the end result had already been decided.

“Oh, this is going to be a great learning experience. It’s good to be out here — (Kluemper) is a good player, it would’ve been fun to see him again next year,” Jarboe said. “I was able to just kind of joke around and anytime I get to joke around is a good time, it usually seems to make me play better.”

The first match to come to completion was the No. 2 doubles match where Jasper’s Hudson Himsel and Jobe Luebbehusen defeated Forest Park’s Caiden Persohn and Evan Steinmetz 6-0, 6-1. Shortly after, the Cats took a 2-0 match lead as the No. 1 doubles team of Mitch Kluemper and Bennett Schmitt defeated Aaron Hurst and Joseph Hurst 6-0, 6-0.

Next to finish was the No. 3 singles match as Jasper’s Max Sternberg defeated Forest Park’s Wesley Stout 6-1, 6-0. With that point, the Cats had clinched their 13th straight sectional title.

Sternberg, a freshman in his first career sectional championship appearance, said he wasn’t too nervous but there were a few jitters as the match began.

“I was a little nervous at first but once I got into it I was fine,” Sternberg said. “Once I get through warmups, I don’t really think about it too much anymore.”

The Wildcats took a 4-0 match lead when No. 1 singles Eli Franks defeated Ranger senior Reid Steffe 6-0, 6-2 and completed the 5-0 sweep with Kluemper’s victory over Jarboe.

For Forest Park head coach Dean Blessinger, the loss was a disappointing end to what he considered a solid season (8-7 overall record, 6-2 Pocket Athletic conference).

But no matter how tough the matches against a team as tough as the No. 13 ranked Wildcats are, he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Forest Park's head coach Dean Blessinger talks with Nathan Jarboe between points of his No. 2 singles match against Jasper's Michael Kluemper during the tennis sectional championship on Thursday. Kluemper defeated Jarboe 6-4, 2-6, 6-1. For more photos from the match, click here.

“I know a few coaches who have petitioned to get away from Castle, (Evansville) Memorial and Jasper in their sectional but we’ve never done that,” Blessinger said. “We’re here, we’re in the county and we’re going to play them until they tell us to go somewhere else. For us, it’s a once in a lifetime type of thing where we’re looking for that one magical season where we’re able to pull it off.”

The toughest thing for Blessinger however will be the graduation of his three seniors — Steffe, Aaron Hurst and Joseph Hurst.

“I thought as I got older that it would get easier to let seniors go but it’s getting harder,” Blessinger said. “You invest a lot in them, they invest a lot in their game and you get them right to where they’re ready to go and then they’re gone. They’re just three outstanding guys.”

For Jasper, the sectional title is just the beginning for what they hope is a long postseason run.

While the Cats finished as the state runner-up last season, Yarbrough admits that it’ll be a tough challenge to reach that mark once again this year with a younger group but if there’s anyone that can do it — it’s the Cats.

“I’m proud of what this team has done especially for how inexperienced they are,” Yarbrough said. “These guys have to start feeling that tension a bit because if we’re lucky enough to advance to state then the nervousness and pressure only increases. The young guys have weathered the storm pretty well this year but tournament play is always different.”

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