Champion Wildcats keep building, still adding

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Jasper’s Jillian Seger, left, Mallory Ahlbrand, Caroline Theil and Kathleen Messmer posed for pictures with their sectional championship ribbons after Thursday’s 5-0 sweep of Forest Park gave the Wildcats the program’s 28th straight sectional title. The Cats return their home courts for the regional starting Tuesday in the semifinals. For more photos from Thursday's sectional final, click here.


JASPER — Among the final embellishments in the facelift at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex is in the spectator area just outside the courts, where “JASPER” is painted on the concrete in gold block letters trimmed in black. The paint is still fairly fresh, so five neon orange cones guard it for now.


An appropriate metaphor, it seems: You can’t touch Jasper, at least in the preliminary rounds of the postseason.

This year’s sectional unfolded as every one has since 1990, with the Wildcats stowing away a sectional trophy and peeking ahead to the next step, or steps. In rumbling past Forest Park 5-0 in Thursday’s championship, the ninth-ranked Wildcats proved you can always keep building on — whether it’s to a sectional streak that’s now at 28 straight, or to your tennis complex that now boasts even more bells and whistles than before.

One of the main thrusts in the offseason construction project was providing visitors a shaded area to escape raindrops or sun, and several did so in Thursday’s sticky warmth. The massive overhang that now juts off the fieldhouse/concession stand area was enough space to add 10 picnic tables underneath. From low (stone slab sidewalks and landscaping) to high (30-foot flagpoles), many of the additions are of the cosmetic variety, though Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough said the next step might be to add a third court to the team’s indoor facility adjacent to the outdoor courts.

That’s in addition to the 20-foot-diameter shade umbrellas that arrived in a separate earlier upgrade. Those were installed by two players from the boys tennis program, Nathaniel James and Bryce Siegel, as an Eagle Scout service project, and they provide further relief from those hot days that the Cats (14-4) usually encounter this time of year and beyond as they’re pursuing a third straight state finals appearance and a sixth consecutive regional title.

“It’s very, very cool,” said Jasper No. 1 singles player Sarah Monesmith, who won both sectional matches by 6-0, 6-0 counts. “We’re so fortunate and we’re so blessed to have the amazing tennis patrons that we have to help us get to build structures like this and like our indoor (facility). It’s just so awesome. We really appreciate it, too. We don’t take it for granted and we absolutely love it.”

Yarbrough knows what the perception is: “I think a lot of people think that the school keeps giving to the tennis program; that’s not the way this works,” he said. A bulk of the project was funded via private donations. But Wildcat players themselves had a hand in the cause, too.

They peddled enough Buffalo Wings & Rings discount cards to raise a few thousand bucks, and also earned a chunk of cash through a “60-minute fundraiser” where players took out their cell phones, called as many people they could in an hour and ended up selling about 600 32-ounce tumblers.

All told, Yarbrough estimated his players raised near or in excess of $10,000 for the project.

“It’s easy to sit back and let other people just write checks. You like to see your kids put a little effort and a little sweat and a little work into it,” he said.

That spills over to the court, whether it was an under-the-weather Mallory Ahlbrand still earning a 6-0, 6-0 sweep at No. 3 singles Thursday, Suchi Bandaru sailing 6-1, 6-0 at No. 2 singles, or the Cats surrendering just a pair of games with both doubles tandems of Olivia Yarbrough and Caroline Theil at No. 1 and Kathleen Messmer and Jillian Seger at No. 2.

Even when things are rolling the Cats’ way, it doesn’t mean there can’t be a layer of enjoyment on the other side. Emily Nord’s take on the day:

Kendyll Gaesser was among five seniors who helped Forest Park reach the sectional final for the first time since 2014. For more photos from Thursday's sectional final, click here.

“Still had fun,” the Forest Park senior offered with a smile.

And why not? In their first full-time varsity seasons, Nord and senior classmate Kendyll Gaesser were happy just to grab a couple games in their 6-1, 6-1 defeat at No. 2 doubles. While the season brought wins and losses practically in equal measure for the Rangers (7-9), Nord and Gaesser relished some of their senior moments together, including a quirky scenario at Paoli’s courts where Nord gave her hustling partner an assist.

“Our very first match,” Gaesser recalled with a giggle, “the most memorable moment was when I got stuck in the fence.”

“She got stuck in the fence when she hit the ball,” Nord added, and “Emily had to come get me out,” Gaesser continued. “They hit the ball and it bounced, it was like a lob, and it hit the (baseline), and as I was running, my foot slid under the fence, but I still got (the shot) in.”

“Yeah. We got the point,” Nord beamed.

While Thursday served as the end note for Nord, Gaesser, three-year No. 1 singles player Paige Uebelhor plus fellow Ranger seniors Lauren Tretter and Hailey Thayer, the beat rolls on for Jasper into Tuesday’s regional semifinals where they’ll host the Vincennes Lincoln sectional winner. That’ll be the next opportunity to raise the flags on their home court — both the stars and stripes and a brand-new golden Jasper tennis flag that Wildcat players are responsible for lowering at the end of the day.

“That’s kind of neat when they’re both up there flying, it really is,” Scott Yarbrough said.

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