Franks, doubles duos spur Cats to state semis


GREENWOOD — The Jasper boys tennis team might be feeling a little bit of déjà vu after Friday’s boys tennis state quarterfinal match.

Whether it was the Cats’ No. 1 singles player dealing with cramps late or a close match at the No. 2 singles position, there were many similarities between this year’s state opener against Jeffersonville and the Wildcats’ battle with the Red Devils at Center Grove in 2014.

But the biggest similarity also just happened to be the most important. Just like the first time, the No. 16 Wildcats came away with a 3-2 victory to send Jasper into today’s 10 a.m. semifinal against Culver Academy at Indianapolis North Central.

Eli Franks’ 6-3, 6-3 victory at the No. 2 singles position was the deciding match, and his Wildcat teammates greeted him the only way they knew how upon his victory.

“I saw them coming, but I knew they couldn’t run on the court since the other match was still going, so I had to go to the corner and meet them there,” Franks said. “All I remember hearing was, ‘We’re going to the final four!’ And that’s just so awesome.”

Franks, who was the only Wildcat to have played in a state-final match prior to Friday, said he felt much more confident the second time around — even as the final game took four deuces to decide.

“I wasn’t nearly as nervous this time, which made it much more fun to play,” Franks said. “You don’t think about the situation as much. You’re just out there playing tennis. I started to get nervous toward the end, but I knew I just needed to relax.”

Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough has preached the importance of playing with the highest level of energy late in the season, and the Wildcats (19-3) did just that as their win streak has now stretched to seven matches dating back to a 3-2 victory over No. 11 Floyd Central.

“You want your kids playing great tennis at the end of the year and where the dominos fall, they fall,” Yarbrough said. “I don’t want to overshadow any of the wins in Jasper tennis history, but I thought this was as good as any of them because we were slight underdogs based on ranking and who (Jeffersonville) had beaten.”

For the No. 2 doubles tandem of Andrew Hochgesang and Mitch Kluemper, the intensity of a state match was a little much at first. But once they got a handle on the atmosphere, points began to come more easily for the Cats’ duo.

After their 7-6, 6-0 win, it was easier to laugh off some of the mistakes they made early in the match, with Jasper assistant coach Noah Moss pointing out an overhead that Kluemper completely whiffed on at the beginning of the first set. Hochgesang was quick to jokingly laugh at his partner, “Oh, yeah, that was bad.”

“The first set was pretty intense. I wouldn’t say I was freaking out, but it was definitely a lot of pressure,” Hochgesang added. “It’s even more pressure when you’re not playing good. But I think finally in that tiebreaker in the first set, we won one close point and then it was a complete switch and we just took over from there.”

How confident was the sophomore-senior tandem that it had gotten over the hump after the first set?

“Once I started playing good and Hokie (Hochgesang) started playing good, they couldn’t do anything about that,” Kluemper said.

Immediately after the conclusion of their match, Hochgesang and Kluemper went to the top of the hill overlooking the Center Grove back courts, where the remainder of Jasper’s matches were being played, to support teammates still involved in battles of their own.

Watching Franks tack on the decisive third match point against the No. 11 Red Devils (13-3) was almost as a good as winning their own match.

“I just went berserk,” Hochgesang said. “We weren’t really favored against them, but once Eli beat their No. 2 singles guy I was just like, ‘We actually did it.’”

Jasper’s No. 1 singles player, Dawson Hopf, was on the court adjacent to Franks when the latter clinched a semifinal berth for the Cats. While Hopf was obviously more focused on what was at stake in his own match, he admitted he glanced a few more times than he maybe should’ve at the court next to his.

“I knew that Eli would have a good match, but I also knew that if Eli didn’t win then me or Bennett (Schmitt at No. 3 singles) would have to win our matches, so ours were equally as important,” Hopf said. “It was hard to stay focused at times, but I tried to do it and I think I did OK.”

Late in Hopf’s match, the Jasper senior went after a shot from Jeffersonville’s Keith Asplund and went down awkwardly on his leg. Hopf laid on the ground for several minutes until finally getting up to play the final two points of his 7-5, 6-0 loss.

Hopf said his muscles felt a little tight after the match, but added he expects to be in the lineup for today’s semifinal match against the No. 21 Eagles (21-2).

“I couldn’t be happier that we won. That relieves any pain that I could even think of,” Hopf said. “I’m not going to let these cramps affect me, I’ll be ready to go (today).”

In the Cats’ 2014 victory over Jeffersonville on the exact same courts, then-Wildcat Grant Weaver was playing No. 1 singles when he began to experience cramps as well before finishing out his 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-2 win. Hopf jokingly blamed Weaver for the recurrence of pain.

“I think (Weaver) started something with the cramping on that court,” Hopf said with a laugh. “But it’s just a blast to be able to play this sport and to play it for Jasper. It means everything to me. It’s crazy that I’ll be able to look back when I’m older and say, ‘Yeah, I was on that team and I actually played.’ It makes it 100 times better.”

While the Wildcats are ecstatic they advanced to the IHSAA boys tennis version of the Final Four, for most of the team it doesn’t feel quite real as of right now.

But after some well-deserved rest and relaxation, Hopf expects the picture to become clearer in his mind.

“It will hit, it will eventually hit,” Hopf said. “It’s just crazy with all of the good teams Jasper has had in the past, we’re one of the ones to make it to the final four. We’re not done yet, though. We’re setting our goals high.”

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