Jasper swells sectional title streak to 30

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Jasper's Emma Reutepohler accepts her sectional ribbon from the Superintendent of Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools,Tracy Lorey, after Thursday's tennis sectional in Jasper. Reutepohler's victory at No. 3 singles ended up being the decisive win for the Wildcats as they defeated Pike Central 3-2 to win their 30th consecutive sectional championship. For more photos from the match, click here.


JASPER — There are certain things we’ve come to expect, especially in sports. When it comes to college football, at least as of late, it’s going to be Alabama and Clemson at the top of the rankings. In the NFL, it’s the New England Patriots.

But more importantly — and it’s hard to remember when it wasn’t that way — is the expectation that the Jasper girls tennis team will win a sectional championship. After all, the Wildcats have done it every year since 1990.

To put it into perspective, the last time Jasper did not win a girls tennis sectional title, gasoline was 97¢ a gallon, a first-class postage stamp was 25¢, George H.W. Bush was president, the World Wide Web had just been invented, television aired the first-ever cell phone commercial, the Berlin Wall was torn down and the Exxon Valdez ran aground, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil along the Alaska shoreline. The parents of most of today’s Wildcats were about 10 years old and listening to music by New Kids on the Block and Milli Vanilli.

That unfathomable 29-year title streak rolled over to 30 years Thursday afternoon at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex when Jasper held off upset-minded Pike Central, 3-2.

But the outcome — and whether the streak would reach 30 — was uncertain until the very end.

The Wildcats rolled to seemingly easy wins in their doubles matches when No. 1 doubles partners Suchi Bandaru and Josie Yarbrough dispatched of Kirsten Jansen and Shelby Vaughn, 6-0, 6-0, followed by a 6-2, 6-3 win at No. 2 doubles by Hadley Meyer and Delaney Wigand over Adair Kabrick and Chloe Roy.

But it was a rough afternoon for Jasper in No. 1 and No. 2 singles. Taylor Marshall lost 6-4, 6-2 to Audrey Keepes, and Priyal Sharma bowed to Natalie Bohnert, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2.

So the continuation of the streak came down to No. 3 singles and Emma Reutepohler, who picked up playing tennis again just two years ago.

“Long story short, we gambled a little bit with our lineup, and I told the girls this. I put them in a tough spot, but I trust them,” explained Jasper head coach Scott Yarbrough. “I’ve put them in a tough spot, because you take three girls who’ve never played a sectional, never played a regional, never played a semistate, and you put them in a spot where you have to win a singles match. We can win all the doubles matches we want, but if you don’t win a singles match, it doesn’t matter. And they know that. We talked about it, we discussed it, I’m very open, they know why this lineup is the way it is, they know why we’re playing it this way.

“Even though Taylor didn’t win and Priyal didn’t win, I think they played well. And Emma Reutepohler was just that nail in the coffin in (No.) 3 singles. They all won in singles [Wednesday], but tonight it was Emma’s night to pull it out.”

Reutepohler blitzed Meredith Benson 6-3, 6-0 to keep the streak alive.

“People have taken for granted our streak of 29 sectionals in a row. I don’t think people realize the time and commitment it takes to do that — and we (the team) never discussed it, never discussed the 30 sectionals, ever. It’s not [the girls’] responsibility to hold on to that streak. Their responsibility is to go out and play as good of tennis as they can,” Yarbrough said. “If the streak continues, the streak continues. This is not what this is about. [It’s] starting the season off and trying to be really good at the end of the year and give your team the best opportunity to move into the state finals. We may not win a sectional, we may not win a regional, but with this lineup, it gives us our best chance, and that’s why we did it this way.”

Jasper's Josie Yarbrough, right, high-fives Suchi Bandaru while playing No. 1 doubles during Thursday's tennis sectional in Jasper. Yarbrough and Bandaru were victorious 6-0, 6-0. For more photos from the match, click here.

The Wildcats advance to regional play beginning Tuesday versus Bloomfield, still looking to continue yet another streak.

Jasper has been to the state finals four years in a row, which is a streak of which to be proud, but which also should not be an obsession, at least as far as Yarbrough is concerned.

“When it’s over you can talk about it, because then it’s fun, but up until that time, it’s just not that big of a deal. If we get beaten — and we’ve won probably seven or eight regionals in a row — if we get beat next week, well, that’s just the way it goes. There’s only one state champ. Everybody else loses their last match of the season. Everybody else has a loss at the end of the season, you just want it to be as late in the year as you can, and right now we’re doing a pretty good job of that.”

Yarbrough believes Jasper’s challenging schedule, which resulted in a 3-10 start for the Wildcats, pays dividends in the postseason.

“The one thing our schedule does is it prepares us for these moments. For us, it’s keeping it steady, not too high, not too low. These girls aren’t high-emotion girls, they’re pretty steady, which is great. I think these girls have another level we can get to. You want to build on each round, get a little bit better, it’s like the season. We’re on a little bit of a win streak. We understand that can come to a crashing halt very soon. We also understand that the three teams coming into the regional are all capable of knocking us off,” Yarbrough said.

“People have just taken for granted that we just always step on the court and win, but it doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to work at it and put some time in. I’m very proud of this group, very proud.”

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