Cats’ steep standards are unswervingApril 3, 2014
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
Recently at Jasper girls tennis practice, coach Scott Yarbrough ordered a stoppage on the courts. Something wasn’t going as fluidly as he thought it should.
Yarbrough wants things as perfect as possible, considering the end game in mind.
“I stopped practice and I said, ”˜Everybody understand, our goal is to be in the state finals. And not trying to be overconfident, but our goal is to get back to the state finals and the final eight. Anything short of that is unacceptable.’
“You say that and it’s kind of a (motivation tool), but I want the girls to understand that even though we’ve graduated four (players), we’re going to have a pretty good tennis team by the end of the year. Some girls are going to have to grow into some spots. ... I think by the end of the season we’ll be pretty dang good.”
That’s even without four graduated seniors, who combined for 13 seasons of varsity experience with more than 300 match wins, to boot.
The losses included the No. 1 singles player and No. 1 doubles team, but the Wildcats do return sophomore Maria Lueken and junior Anna Flick, the singles players who accounted for Jasper’s victories last year in a 3-2 semistate loss to eventual state runner-up Floyd Central; the Cats gripped a match point to win that semistate battle before the Highlanders punched back to win 3-2, ending the Cats’ season at 19-3.
Yarbrough expects Maria Lueken to ascend from No. 2 singles to play No. 1, and “when it’s all said and done, (Maria) is going to be a pretty nice player for us,” he said. Her sister, senior Brooke Lueken, is back after gaining two years of experience at No. 2 doubles.
Brooke should anchor one of the doubles positions, with other spots up for grabs as the Wildcats finally have more turnover than in years past.
“The neat part about this is we’re going to get to see a lot of kids that have kind of been in the waiting, and see what they can do for us,” said Yarbrough, whose team gets another shot at Floyd Central on Tuesday to open the season.
Senior Kendra Seger and junior Elisabeth Ahlbrand are capable doubles players, as the two formed the top tandem on the last season’s JV squad. Senior Valerie Sargent is in the mix in doubles, and likewise for junior Julia Ariens in singles. There are also a pair of sophomores who are a pair of possibilities at singles or doubles: Emma Yarbrough (Scott’s daughter) and Emma Seger.
It’s the final ride for Larry Kieffner, who coached the Raider boys squad for 37 years and is back for his 32nd and final season with the girls squad.
His tenure has been vast, though so far this season, time hasn’t been on his side as the Raiders launch their season in four days.
“The good news is we’ve got a bunch of pretty good athletes this year. And the bad news is we haven’t got a lot of time to challenge them yet,” said Kieffner, whose team has seen just limited time on court during the clammy preseason weather.
What Kieffner does have is a palette of options that starts with his two seniors: Alexandra Herron, who slides up a spot in the singles order to play No. 1 this season, and Cheyenne Layton, who played No. 1 doubles in the Raiders’ 8-8 finish last spring.
Herron hasn’t lost a set yet in preseason challenge matches, while Layton is capable of sliding over to play singles, too. Junior Jocelyn Sermersheim earned some varsity action a year ago and is also angling for one of the singles positions along with juniors Ann McConnell and Taylor Miles plus two freshmen, Emily Eckert and Leah Diekhoff.
In doubles, Maddie Neu is an experienced performer and fellow juniors Megan Diekhoff and Elli Schank are more options for a Raider team that has early-season challenges lined up with Evansville Mater Dei, Northeast Dubois, Gibson Southern and Princeton in the first 10 days of the season.
“I think these kids are going to be OK this year. We’ve got kind of a beast these first couple matches — pretty strong competition coming up. That’s before we get settled, and we might not even have our starting lineup settled by first match or two,” Kieffner said. “It’ll take a little while before we get them together, but I think this bunch can jell together into a pretty good group.”
Second-year coach Emily Opell’s chief consideration so far has been handling the great divide on a team with five seniors, eight freshmen and just four sophomores and juniors in between.
But as Opell is continually noticing, unity isn’t a big issue thanks to her cluster of seniors who helped the Rangers assemble a 12-3 mark last season. They nearly raked in a Pocket Athletic Conference crown, too, with the only setback a 3-2 defeat to Gibson Southern late in the season.
“They’re definitely motivated,” Opell said of her seniors, who’ve established the primary mission of winning the program’s first PAC title since 2005. “Every day at practice they’re encouraging the other girls, cheering for them when they’re running or just encouraging them to continue playing. I think they’re motivated themselves, but they’re motivated to also pass down different traditions and different things that we’ve been developing.”
Three seniors should handle the No. 1 positions as they did in 2013, with Amie Weyer back at No. 1 singles and Kereston Hochgesang and Jordan Buechler fusing as the top doubles squad for Forest Park, which gets started next Thursday at Washington Catholic.
Weyer, the only Ranger who plays tennis year-round, has “improved in every way,” said Opell, adding that with doubles, “we’ve been working at more strategies and playing the net more, which was a little bit of a weakness last year.”
Opell is still experimenting with personnel and combinations at No. 2 doubles, and she’s also seeing how the race shakes out for the other singles positions at Nos. 2 and 3. Senior Maddison Beckman, last year’s No. 3 singles player, is in contention there along with freshman Paige Uebelhor.
Capturing a sectional title in 2013 — the first for the program since 1989 — did more than just infuse the returning Jeeps with excitement and confidence.
Jeep coach Tina Terwiske, who returns enough talent to make another sectional run, pointed out that the Jeeps’ recent move out of Jasper’s sectional has been a boost to the program as far as sparking interest. Terwiske referenced senior and returning No. 2 singles player Kendra Schroering, whose friends recruited her to join the team as a sophomore.
“Just that change in the last couple years has meant so much even in selling the team as something to come out and do in the spring,” said Terwiske, whose team reached the regional championship last May and opens this season next Thursday at home against Crawford County. “Pulling Kendra in from not doing a spring sport, you can at least say, ”˜We have a chance (to win a sectional).’”
The Jeeps have eyes on more hardware with the return of three more seniors, all of whom are occupying varsity slots for a fourth straight season.
Talia Terwiske, Andrea Smock and Jennifer Schepers all held down doubles positions during the Jeeps’ 15-2 season a year ago. Terwiske and junior Jenna Stemle teamed to go undefeated until the regional final as a No. 1 doubles pair, though Terwiske will relocate to singles this season as she and Schroering hold down the top two positions.
Stemle, Smock and Schepers will fill the doubles lineup, and while Tina Terwiske is still waiting to see which newcomer will jump into the doubles mix, she said sophomore Stefanie Archer should be ready to step in at No. 3 singles.
“Four seniors with good strong leadership, that’ll help us out with filling in just a few spots with some underclassmen,” Tina Terwiske said.
After last year’s 6-9 campaign, Patriot coach Brian Oxley said “there’s still some maturity that’ll have to happen” with this year’s Patriots, even with a lineup that contains six girls who are juniors or seniors.
That process started as early as a year ago for players like junior Amber Schmidt, who stepped in to play one varsity match as a last-minute replacement for a sick teammate.
“It changed her whole attitude. She even made the comment, ”˜It’s more intense, people are more focused. It’s more about winning than just learning how to play.’ And she’s taken that mentality to the rest of them,” said Oxley, who added that his hope is to finish a few matches above .500 and in the top half of the Pocket Athletic Conference as the Pats open their season today at Evansville Day.
“And they all realized that last year, that varsity’s a different game. But they’ve all embraced that and they’re all coming focused to practice to do the best they can and to match that intensity.”
Oxley expects his singles lineup to start with junior Meridith Balbach, who started last season at No. 3 singles, stepped up to No. 2 by the end of the year and has now established herself at No. 1. Junior Alexis Rube is slotted at No. 3 singles, and the No. 2 position should go to senior Vanessa Lahee or junior Hannah Turner.
Whichever of those girls isn’t in singles should help lead a collection of doubles players that include senior Kayla Hildenbrand plus Amber Schmidt and sophomore Krystal Schmidt (no relation).
Contact Brendan Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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