Jasper girls' tennis learning with every match

Photo by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Mackenzie Cooley high-fives her doubles teammate Priyal Sharma during Saturday's quad invitational in Jasper. During this early part of the season, the Wildcats have been experimenting with players in different positions as a multitude of girls have had varsity experience playing both singles and doubles. 



JASPER — The Jasper girls tennis team has found themselves in a new kind of growing phase as they work through the early portion of their season. With the departure of last year’s talented and experienced senior class, the Wildcats have had to step up and be flexible when it comes to filling different roles for the team during competition. One day they could playing a singles match, the next they could be in a doubles pairing, but whatever the case may be the goal is always the same — do your best for the good of the team.

This has led to some players facing stumbling blocks early as they face opponents with more individual varsity experience, but that comes as no surprise to Wildcats coach Scott Yarbrough. He knew some of the early outings, like the matches they played this past weekend at the Jasper Invitational, would be tough on his players. However he believes the trial-by-fire is the best way to not only see where the girls are as players, but also give himself data on which roles are the best fit for players as he tries different lineups during the season.

“The only way to see kids’ true character and how they can handle pressure is get them in some varsity matches,” he said. “This weekend we got to see a lot of kids in different spots. We’re trying to position ourselves to where we can win three points when we play matches. We came up a little short this weekend, we’ll continue to do some tinkering.”

The weekend’s final results were something of a mixed bag for the Wildcats. On Friday they faced the McCracken County (Ky.) Mustangs and were swept 5-0. Saturday they fell against the South Bend St. Joseph Indians (4-1) and Bloomington South Panthers (3-2), but Yarbrough felt the team played much better in their Saturday matches, including a No. 2 doubles match featuring senior Mackenzie Cooley and sophomore Priyal Sharma that went into an extra set before they were defeated 7-6, 6-7, 7-6.

Yarbrough liked the way the girls bounced back after Friday’s match and put together a better day of tennis when they played on Saturday. He thought they hit the ball better, took to the coaching better, and brought a sharper competitive edge against the Indians and Panthers. His major critique centered around the girls trying to force the issue at times and playing themselves into unforced errors because of it, but he thinks that’s an issue the players and coaches can come together and fix.

“The one thing we’ve been trying to do is tell kids to focus a little bit more,” said Yarbrough. “They need to try and meet us halfway on some of the things we’re asking them to do.”

Saturday’s event play went a long way towards bolstering the confidence of the players. It let them know that, despite their collective experience, they have the tools to compete with other top quality programs as long as they keep their heads in the game and ears open for their coaches’ advice.

“These three matches helped us get further in our mental game and how we need to come out and play,” said junior Suchi Bandaru, who won both of her doubles matches on Saturday. “I think we grew in that (aspect) and making sure we’re coachable and putting out our best tennis.”

“We were very close with some of these teams,” added sophomore Josie Yarbrough, who was also victorious on Saturday in her single and doubles matches. “I think it shows that when we are playing good and have energy we can play with the higher competition. We just have to focus and be having a good attitude about it.”

The season doesn’t get any easier for the Wildcats as they face more stiff competition in Center Grove, Floyd Central, and Carmel in the upcoming week. But Yarbrough wants the girls to understand that this is the road they’ll be traveling from now until the end of the season, but that’s okay. It’s all part of the process leading up to the postseason.

“Our competition will force us to play in tough matches, and that’s the best thing we have going for us in our schedule,” he said. “We will get to play good matches day in and day out. We’re trying to focus on being the best we can be by the end of the season.”

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