Jasper tennis returns singles lineupAugust 4, 2020
By JONATHAN SAXON
JASPER — The Jasper boys tennis team continued the tradition of racquet dominance last season by bagging its 14th consecutive sectional title on the way to a semi-state berth — where they fell in a 3-2 match against Evansville Reitz. Mitch Kluemper and Grant Stratton extended their season a bit by qualifying for the individual state tournament, but bowed out in the first round against Ft. Wayne Homestead’s Bryant Zitlaw and Tim Steiner.
Wildcats coach Scott Yarbrough had a young group last year with only one senior in the lineup, but he’ll have seven seniors and a junior with No. 1 singles experience to work with this fall. Yarbrough is looking forward to what the Wildcats can do with so many experienced players coming back.
“I’m hoping to build on what we did last year,” he said. “Our goal will be getting to the state finals. We’ve got the team and the experience to do that.”
The Wildcats only lost Kluemper to graduation, so Yarbrough has a problem most coaches would kill for — a host of bodies for a few open spots. The team returns its entire singles lineup from last year in junior Max Sternberg (No. 1), senior Bennett Schmitt (No. 2) and senior Grant Levy (No. 3). Stratton and fellow seniors Jobe Luebbehusen and Hudson Himsel all played doubles last season. Kluemper’s departure means there will be some shifts, and guys without prior varsity experience like seniors Will Messmer and Owen Franks along with junior Justin Schultz and sophomore Reece Lampert could challenge for court time.
“We’ll have to see how that plays out,” the coach said. “From a singles standpoint, I have four or five kids who could vie for those spots. From a doubles standpoint, we probably have about six guys that are looking at four spots.”
Besides figuring out the lineups, Yarbrough’s main concern right now is getting all of the boys back into fighting form after such a long time away from the court. COVID-19 set back the timetable for open courts and working out, so Yarbrough wants to get them in shape over the next few weeks to prepare for the rigors of the court.
“This spring set everybody back,” he said. “The kids didn’t get a chance to get out and play as much as they wanted to. This summer, we’ve gotten off to a slower start. They need to build up that endurance. We want to make sure those arms are healthy at the start of August.”
Another challenge will be getting acclimated as new members to the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference this season. Yarbrough anticipates a tougher road to the conference title contending with teams from the Evansville area. But he also sees the schedule as a blessing, and thinks it’ll better prepare the Wildcats for the postseason tournament.
“You bring in schools like a Castle or Evansville North, those teams have a little bit more of a rich tennis history than some teams in the Big Eight did,” said Yarbrough, whose team will play its first match Aug. 15 at home against Evansville Central and Evansville Mater Dei. “That’ll bring a challenge that we have not seen before. Our schedule is a good schedule and will get us ready for tournament play.”
More than anything, Yarbrough is hoping for good health for the kids, and that the new social distancing measures keep everyone safe. He missed going out for tennis [with the girls team] in the spring, and hopes that recent history doesn’t repeat itself anytime soon.
“I hope everyone gets the chance to play fall sports,” he said. “It’s good for the kids. All sports bring something a bit extra for their high school experience.”
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