Jasper juggernaut wins 14th consecutive title

Jasper's Max Sternberg returns the ball at the tennis sectional championship in Jasper on Thursday. Jasper defeated Forest Park 5-0. Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald


JASPER — The outcome at Thursday’s sectional finals at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex was predictable. After all, this was the 14th consecutive tennis sectional championship for the Jasper boys team, and the 29th title in the past 30 years. Only Southridge in 2005 knows what it feels like to derail what Forest Park coach Dean Blessinger called “a tennis juggernaut.”

But the magnitude of Jasper’s 39th overall sectional title, which is fourth all-time among all teams in the state, is not lost on Wildcats coach Scott Yarbrough.

“I don’t care what anybody says, you don’t ever take winning for granted, ’cause then you’ll lose it, and then you’ll have to find a way to get it back.”

As they did against Southridge in Wednesday’s semifinals, the Wildcats won in straight sets for a 5-0 victory. And except for one set that extended to a 7-5 verdict, Jasper won quite handily, claiming 61 of the 72 games on the day.

“Not the outcome we’d hoped for, but we understand what we’re up against,” Blessinger said after the trophy presentation to the Wildcats. “These guys are a tennis juggernaut.”

Unseating Jasper “is a tall task. First, we have to be competitive with them, then we’ve got to start thinking about ‘how do we win the first match or two individually,’ and then from there maybe start thinking about ‘can you get three and take this thing from them?” Blessinger postulated.

“It’s only happened once in like the last 35 or 40 years,” he conceded. “All kudos to Scott and everybody who works hard to make this such a juggernaut.”

The Wildcats stamped their ticket to next week’s regional by blowing past the Rangers. Max Sternberg ousted Nathan Jarboe 6-0, 6-0 in No. 1 singles, and Bennett Schmitt took care of Wesley Stout by a 6-3, 6-0 count in No. 2 singles. The closest set of the day was when Grant Levy survived a first-set 7-5 score in No. 3 singles, then dispatched Landen Marks in the deciding set, 6-1. In doubles play, Mitchell Kluemper and Grant Stratton defeated Bryson Partenheimer and Caiden Persohn 6-2, 6-0, and Hudson Himsel and Jobe Luebbehusen blanked Brandon Andry and Tanner Berg 6-0, 6-0.

Jasper's Hudson Himsel hits a groundstroke at the tennis sectional championship in Jasper on Thursday. Jasper defeated Forest Park 5-0. Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald

“They’ve played some really good tennis the last two weeks,” Blessinger said of his players, “and I thought they played pretty good tennis today. They just got beat up by better tennis players.

“These guys (Jasper) are smart, they’re very smart tennis players. You might fool them for a few games, but they’ll figure you out, so you better have something in the reserve,” Blessinger said pragmatically.

With the need to expand the trophy case long overdue, Yarbrough realizes the end in the postseason is always lurking, ready to capitalize on the anxiety of teenagers or a misstep in the game plan.

“Even though I think they felt confident we would win it, there’s always jitters,” he said of his team. “I’m a firm believer in no matter what the match up is or who you’re playing or who’s favored or how big you’re supposed to win by, I think there’s always jitters. Kids realize, once you lose, you’re done, and that’s what you play for in a tournament. I think tonight they relaxed more a little bit. I think they got their first match under their belt.”

Although the Wildcats were generally efficient in claiming the championship they’ve owned since 2006, Yarbrough was magnanimous toward the Rangers.

“Coach Blessinger at Forest Park does a great job over there. He finds kids, a little diamond in the rough. Kudos to Forest Park, and what they accomplished.”

Jasper plays Loogootee at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex. The Lions advanced to regional play with a 3-2 win over Northeast Dubois Thursday at the Loogootee Sectional. The winner of Tuesday’s match plays for the regional championship at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, with semistate scheduled for Oct. 12 at the Jasper courts.

The Wildcats have won 24 regional titles, including the last eight in a row. Should Jasper reach the semistate round, it is also familiar territory for the Wildcats, who won six of seven titles from 2011 to 2017, and 12 overall since 1981.

But Yarbrough is content to take the postseason challenges one match at a time. “We’ll look forward to the next step, whoever that is,” he said.

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