Jeeps banded together for one-sided prosperity

Herald Sports Editor

DUBOIS — The seniors on the Northeast Dubois tennis team are accustomed to the idea of being in charge. So much so, that they almost didn’t realize their time is almost up.

With no seniors on the team each of the last two years to govern what they did — and specifically, what they wore — the group of four Jeep seniors had always bandied about the idea of accessorizing with some head gear.

“We always talked about, ”˜Let’s get some headbands, that would be cool.’ We just never had initiative to go do it,” senior Gage Knies said. “This year, this is it. This is our last year. Let’s go get them.”

Jeep coach Tracy Gutgsell still isn’t sure how she feels about the white bands worn only by the seniors — she cautioned them they’d be drawing attention to themselves — but she wasn’t about to put a stop to the fashion statement. And similarly, few have been able to pause the Jeeps’ runaway romp through the tennis season.

G. Knies

The Jeeps’ conquest of Forest Park on Tuesday in Dubois contained more of the same. Another 5-0 shutout (their 10th in 11 matches). A cascade of more spotless sets. Tyler Haas, Gage Knies and Cayden Knies chewed through 6-0, 6-0 wins in singles for a Jeep team that has turned the 6-love set into an absurdly prolific art form. Of the sets that Northeast Dubois has won this season, 57 percent have been by the 6-0 margin.

It also begs the question: Does cruising so freely remove some of the luster of winning?
“It does,” Gutgsell admitted. “They like to be challenged.”

Some of the best resistance comes from within.

Gutgsell told her guys from the season’s outset that they’d likely be their own best competition in practice. Gage Knies can challenge Haas when they go head to head in challenge matches, and the Jeeps’ two doubles teams are so balanced that Gutgsell flipped them for a few matches when the No. 2 team of Ethan Kieffner and Patrick Betz scored a couple wins against Bill Schepers and Tristan Linne.

Tuesday, both Jeep duos assumed command of their matches as Kieffner and Betz trumped Emerson Thayer and Matthew Nonte 6-2, 6-2. At No. 1 doubles, Schepers and Linne pulled away 7-5, 6-0, prompting Forest Park coach Dean Blessinger’s evaluation that the Jeeps (11-0) are more than just the punch of three tough singles players.

“We hit a lot of really strong angles on them, and they handled it,” he said of Schepers and Linne. “They did well with it. They did not mishit many balls.”

Blessinger said his No. 1 doubles pair of Bryan Hurst and Andy Schlachter were the lone Rangers who succeeded in challenging Northeast Dubois — and seeking more of a spark and players who perform with pride, Blessinger assured there will be lineup changes for Thursday’s home match against North Posey.

The Ranger coach knows his team can be better, and he said the Jeeps are the perfect paradigm.
“They’re everything we wish we could be,” Blessinger said. “Tracy and (assistant coach Dwayne Knies) know they’ve got something pretty special.

“They’re good. They’re real good. They understand tennis. They’ve got tennis sense and they’ve got tennis skills.”

The Jeeps are finding ways to fine-tune those, too, even when scores are routinely lopsided toward the Jeeps.

“I tell them every time, it doesn’t matter who the team is or how much you’re winning, you need to make something worth it out there,” Gutgsell said. “Practice something different. Try something different. Do something that’s going to make you improve.”

For Schepers and Linne and on Tuesday, the focus was on sharper approach shots toward the net and trimming down unforced errors. Gage Knies, meanwhile, toyed around with the placing of his second serve.

For a stretch, Haas and Gage Knies were virtually in sync on adjacent courts in flipping their scorecards to reflect their swelling lead: 1-0, 3-0, 5-0. And so on. The Jeeps received their first serious push Monday from Vincennes Rivet in a 4-1 win that included a trio of three-setters, but typically they haven’t worked up too much of a sweat.

That means the headbands are more of a cosmetic flair than a housecleaning necessity. And as the seniors patterned the look after pro players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the slightly shaggy Schepers may be the only Jeep with the comparable flowing hair.

“He’s got the best start on us,” Knies joked.

When it comes to the derby of cranking out 6-0, 6-0 wins, everyone’s a part. For Schepers, it doesn’t get old, since there’s a measure of motivation to be taken from the free-and-easy wins.
“It makes us want to get better,” Schepers said. “We want to keep winning 6-0, 6-0. We want to keep winning big. That’s how we know as compared to last year and the year before that we’re getting better.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at

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