Everyone joins in for all-inclusive Cats

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper No. 1 doubles players Noah Moss, center, and Will Seger cheered teammate Grant Weaver at the end of his semistate match Saturday as the rest of the Wildcat team joined in support.

Herald Sports Editor

At the close of Jasper tennis practice Tuesday, Wildcat senior Will Seger picked up Joe Kemker, slung him over his shoulder like a backpack and paraded around the courts with his squirming freshman teammate in tow. There was no good reason for Seger to give Kemker an impromptu ride, other than Kemker carried his weight enough for him and Seger to tie No. 2 doubles team Ben Seng and Aaron Nordhoff in the practice set they were playing.


Seger and Kemker hadn’t played doubles before. They may never play doubles again.

Seger will resume his usual partnership with Noah Moss at No. 1 doubles when Jasper makes its eighth state finals appearance Friday at Lawrence Central High School. And Kemker will be among the Wildcats watching from the other side of the fence when No. 8 Jasper (19-2) faces off with No. 2 Indianapolis Park Tudor (17-2) in the quarterfinal round.

But the playful exchange between Seger and Kemker reveals one of the ways Jasper’s program distinguishes itself from others. Whatever the Wildcat varsity program achieves, the rest of the team is every bit as incorporated in the success and the fun. Everyone feels a slice of ownership.

“It’s one of those things in Jasper tennis where everyone’s involved,” Seger said. “I think those guys deserve to be included. ... And for the younger guys who are out here volunteering their time, it’s a good thing to be out here and experience playing with five or six seniors; just learning from each and every one of us I think it’s great, it shows what Jasper tennis is all about.”

The inclusiveness begins with what coach Scott Yarbrough calls one of the “automatic rules” of the program. During the season, after varsity players finish their matches, they stick around until every JV match is completed. Naturally, reciprocation is expected. Yarbrough expects his 14 nonvarsity players to be more that seat-fillers, so when they weren’t being what he described as “rah-rah enough” in last week’s regional championship, he made it known he expects more volume and energy from them.

After all, they’re always part of every plan.

The day before the regional last week, the Cats enjoyed a team dinner.

“We invited all 21 guys to come,” Yarbrough said.

This morning, the parents of the freshman players fixed a spread of breakfast food for a team feast in Yarbrough’s classroom at school.

“All 21 guys will be there,” Yarbrough promised.

And for the journey up to state, Jasper has an entourage.

“All 21 guys are going with us,” Yarbrough said.

“It’s kind of always the way we’ve done things, to include everybody.”

At this point in the postseason, practices are mandatory only for the varsity seven plus seniors Harrison Love, Andy Knust and Jared Matsel. There’s an open invitation for anyone else on the team to show up. Yarbrough issues the caveat that his focus will be channeled exclusively to the top seven varsity players, but that didn’t stop guys like Kemker, Nick Monesmith, Luke Hochgesang and Hudson Schmidt from being regular fixtures at practice this week.

Those who show up know what’s demanded.

When the varsity players completed a running loop to end Tuesday’s practice, the five extra Wildcats who showed up completed the sprint, too.

“I ask myself why I still run,” said Knust, still catching his breath after the run ended. “But the team does it and I’m part of the team, so I’m going to do it, too. I just love being around it.

“This is the best group of guys I’ve ever hung out with. I love being around them.”

That, plus a little competition, lured Kemker to this week’s workouts.

Seger took the opportunity of playing with his younger teammate to dispense some advice, such as how to take away the center of the net when an opponent returns serve. At one point, Kemker missed a shot and sheepishly told Seger he was sorry.

Seger assured Kemker that one faulty groundstroke in a practice match was nothing to worry about. Kemker’s response? It’s not OK if I want to play No. 1 doubles next year.

“It’s really, everybody’s looking out for each other, helping everybody get better,” Kemker said.

And all of that contributes to the Wildcats continually remaining stocked with talent.

When the photo of this year’s state finalist team is hung in the hallway at school to join the seven before it, Yarbrough plans to have all 21 players included in the picture. Of course.

The Wildcat coach joked that one reason all the reserves love being along for the ride is they get a couple days off school for the finals hike to Indy. But there are plenty more deeper reasons why the team is all-inclusive.

“They get to feel like they’re part of something a little bit. And you know what, they did all the running, they went through all the practices, they got home late on all the away trips. To a certain point, they’ve done everything the varsity guys have done,” Yarbrough said.

“The one thing they get to see is if you do this — if you win a sectional and you win a regional and you win a semistate — this is what you get to do. This is the part that’s supposed to be enjoyable. ... We want everybody to pick up on that atmosphere as much as possible.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.

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