Cats upgrade for latest title snapshotSeptember 28, 2012
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
JASPER — A few days ago, Scott Yarbrough’s desk became a photo album.
In poking around the fieldhouse of the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex, Scott Yarbrough and other players pulled old photographs out of drawers and perused through the pile. Several are of current players — Eli and Ben Seng, Noah Moss, Will Seger and Jared Matsel — who were miniature tennis prodigies about a decade ago.
Around the same time, the Wildcats were transitioning from their old facility, a relatively modest nine-court complex, to the stately 12-court layout they inhabit now.
Yarbrough smiles when recalling the old digs, where the “office” was essentially a shed with an air conditioner in it. Not quite the current spacious fieldhouse, which contains a tennis-racket stringer, is lined with plush couches and chairs and is crammed with an ever-growing trophy assortment.
“We’ve stepped it up a little bit since then,” Yarbrough said.
He’s not just talking about bricks and mortar. The baby-faced kids in those photos who’ve slaved away on groundstrokes for the last 10 years are all grown up now and drove the program’s 32nd sectional championship Thursday, when eighth-ranked Jasper dismissed Southridge 5-0. It wasn’t long ago the Raiders sneaked in to grab a sectional title during a period of five years in which Southridge and county neighbors Forest Park and Northeast Dubois took turns pushing Jasper to the brink in sectional play.
That was seven years ago. And it seems like cosmic history now, since the Wildcats trucked through Thursday’s final winning all but one match 6-0, 6-0.
“That’s probably as dominant as sectional final as it’s been,” Yarbrough said. “I think you have teams reloading a little bit, and you have one of our more talented teams in the last 10 years. When I came in (as coach in 2003) we were really rebuilding, and now we’re getting to enjoy some of the kids that have put in time.”
That includes Eli Seng, who’s emerged to be Jasper’s most dominant No. 1 singles player since Ross Gehlhausen, who graduated 10 years ago. Seng accented his shutout Thursday with a touch of flair. Bolting back toward the baseline to chase a shot hit over his head, Seng executed a Roger Federer-esque between-the-legs shot.
Yarbrough razzed Seng that he still lost that point, when Southridge’s Tyler Gray finished it with an overhead smash that whizzed through Seng’s legs.
Yarbrough had to find something to find one negligible detail to take issue with, right? Little else could be scrutinized.
Seger and Moss (No. 1 doubles), Aaron Nordhoff and Ben Seng (No. 2 doubles) and Logan Mathies (No. 3 singles) didn’t lose a game. Six of the Cats have cycled through the sectional celebration before, but joining the party for the first time this year is Mathies, a freshman who’s likely within that collage of old photos somewhere — he’s been playing since age 3.
With a range of experience — Mathies played in a closed tournament this summer in Kalamazoo, Mich., in which players had to qualify for the regional event — he comes preprogrammed with experience. There was one golden ticket this season on the Wildcat squad for the lone varsity vacancy, and Mathies wasn’t surprised he squeezed it.
“Actually, I kind of expected to play one of the singles spots, just because I put in so much time over the season. I just basically worked all winter, all the previous winters,” Mathies said. “It was pretty exciting. I was a little bit nervous coming into the season at first, but I kind of settled in. The guys, they’re really been helping me out a lot and just kind of welcoming me to the team.”
Grant Weaver polished off the Cats’ seventh straight title by knocking off Trey Reese, who denied Jasper a potential golden quintet of shutouts when he swiped a game early in the second set. Reese took one more before Weaver closed out a 6-0, 6-2 victory. Reese’s effort was the salvation for the Raiders (13-5), along with their first trip to the sectional final since 2007 and a season in which Southridge came an eyelash from beating Gibson Southern for first place in the Pocket Athletic Conference.
“I played as hard as I could. I think everybody did,” said Reese, one of five departing seniors from the varsity lineup along with Jerry Frick, Ian Mathies, Jason King and Matt Loehr. “We did the best we could out there, we just weren’t as talented as they were this year.”
“Trey Reese really hung in there. When he got down, it showed how tough he was, because he dug out a couple games there when he got down,” Raider coach Larry Kieffner added. “Tyler did a really nice job, he hung in there. He played back and forth with him; (Seng) was just too strong for him, but I thought Tyler did a really good job. I thought we played about as well as we could.”
Jasper wouldn’t budge, at least not this early in the tournament. The coaches of the Cats’ two sectional victims both confidently predicted Jasper will be one of the eight teams playing in the state finals in two weeks. First comes the regional and a semifinal matchup Tuesday at home against Loogootee (16-3).
The Cats will keep appeasing their coach if upcoming matches unfold like Thursday’s: quick and immaculate.
“We like to get out and play clean tennis; if that’s a 25-minute match, an hour match, hour and a half,” Yarbrough said. “Obviously, it’s easier to stay mentally focused on tougher matches. But sectional’s not something we overlook. I think sometimes it’s gone easier than we thought it would.”
Contact Brendan Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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