Cats underclassmen get early varsity taste

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Jasper sophomore Suchi Bandaru returned a serve from Bloomington South’s Maya Mills in the first set of their No. 1 singles match on Friday evening at Jasper High School. The match was Bandaru’s first time playing No. 1 singles in her young career as she came away with the victory in Jasper’s 5-0 match win.


Playing in your first career varsity tennis match is always a nerve-wracking experience, no matter what position you’re playing or what team you’re playing against.

But being slotted in the No. 1 singles spot against No. 6 South Bend St. Joseph — the team that eliminated Jasper’s girls tennis team from the state finals last season — will definitely spark up your nerves a bit.

“I was definitely very nervous and I really just had no idea what I was going to do,” said Wildcat sophomore Taylor Marshall who fell 6-0, 6-0 in her first career varsity match at the No. 1 singles spot. “Everything was totally new to me.”

With senior Sarah Monesmith out due to sickness, Marshall found out not long before the team’s first match in the Jasper Four-Team Tennis Invitational on Friday that she would make her varsity debut in the team’s primary singles spot.

Marshall is just one of several underclassmen, along with sophomore Suchi Bandaru and freshman Josie Yarbrough, that were expected to contribute to Jasper’s varsity roster this season after the team graduated three key seniors last year — Mallory Ahlbrand, Jillian Seger and Kathleen Messmer.

You learn a lot in your first career varsity action. For Marshall, she learned it’s best to always hold your head high and never get too low on yourself — even if things aren’t looking bright.

“You always have to take things one point at a time,” Marshall said. “If you do that, everything will be fine. If you play well then you play well, but if you don’t, you don’t — it’s not the end of the world.”

Bandaru, Jasper’s primary No. 2 singles player, got immediate varsity action as a freshman last year as she spent time at both the No. 3 and No. 2 singles spot.

While she might have been a little nervous in her first varsity match like Marshall was on Friday night, growing up playing in youth tournaments and similar battles gave Bandaru extra confidence going into last season.

“Having that experience sure helps being able to come out and just know what you’re doing right away,” Bandaru said. “I feel like I’ve played matches my entire life, so coming out here and doing what I love is great.”

Jasper’s Maggie Getzin, left, high-fived her doubles partner Taylor Marshall after the pair scored a point in the first set of their match against Bloomington South’s No. 2 doubles team of Isabel Fernandez and Jamie Lee. Marshall, who made her varsity debut at the No. 1 singles spot earlier in the night against South Bend St. Joseph, was moved to a doubles spot in her second match where she said she feels more comfortable due to feeding off of the energy from her partner.

Similar to Bandaru, Yarbrough has been around tennis nearly her entire life — especially the Jasper tennis program. Growing up in the Yarbrough family and being the daughter of longtime Jasper tennis coach Scott Yarbrough, Josie has had a racket in her hand nearly since the time she began walking.

Playing tennis at such a young age took away the majority of her nerves when she played her first-ever varsity match earlier this season against McCracken County (Ky.).

“Even when I was in middle school, I spent so much time hitting with the older (girls),” Josie Yarbrough said. “I knew the seniors really well, so I’d condition with them and I’ve always been around the team so it helped me a lot when I started on varsity this year. I feel like if I hadn’t been around the team before my first year, I’d feel more confused and more down on myself, but watching (the upperclassmen) has made me more into it and made me feel more like part of the family.”

With five seniors on this year’s roster — Monesmith, Maggie Getzin, Caroline Theil, Olivia Yarbrough and Aubrey Williams — the upperclassmen have had plenty of advice to offer to the younger players.

The seniors have done their best to take charge and provide positive reinforcement when last minute changes occur such as when Marshall was thrown into playing the No. 1 singles spot on Friday night. Josie Yarbrough says she’s learned that the support the upperclassmen have shown to the underclassmen has been impeccable.

“For Taylor (Marshall), she had to come in and step up and the seniors were telling her that they knew it was going to be tough but they told her to have fun and just come out with confidence,” Josie Yarbrough said. “They just want everyone to have the best attitude because in tennis, attitude is everything. We really focus around attitude and (the upperclassmen) will get you pumped and hype you up before your matches, even if they’re really difficult they’ll make you feel better and give you confidence that you can do it.”

Bandaru, who looks poised to take the No. 1 singles spot in the future and who also got her first taste at the No. 1 position in a straight-set victory over Bloomington South in the second match on Friday, says that while even though she notices slight differences in skill levels at the three different singles positions, it’s mostly just important not to let the spot play too much into the match.

“I feel like as you go up, players are much more aggressive which is kind of what I like to do,” Bandaru said. “I always go in with the same intentions to win, no matter what number I’m playing as.”

Before the season started, Scott Yarbrough said his team was hungrier than ever to return to the state finals and as one of the team’s major goals this year, they’re making sure to do everything they can to ensure their return.

“Every practice we’ve come out here and we just want to get after it and put as much time in as possible to get better,” Bandaru said.

Josie Yarbrough added, “I’ve been around this for my whole life so I’m already pretty involved in it and I want to get as far as possible just like the seniors. Even once we get to state, we want to just go as far as we possibly can.”

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