New indoor home sharpens Cats' outside attack

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
No. 1 singles Abby Rogers logged plenty of time in Jasper’s new indoor tennis facility last winter, just like the rest of her Wildcat teammates. The winter work had paid off this spring as the Cats have cruised past the regional into Saturday’s single-match semistate at 10 a.m. against Columbus North.

Herald Sports Editor

For Jasper girls tennis players, trying to arrange offseason hitting sessions in the past was almost like planning a vacation.

They needed someone to drive, since the closest indoor facilities were in French Lick and Evansville. They needed some cash. And most of all, advance planning was a must with all the logistics of an out-of-town trip.

Now, the Wildcats can fire up a January tennis session on a whim. Bored and want to squeeze in some court time? It’s now a possibility to go from couch to court in about five minutes, since the newly opened Ed Yarbrough Indoor Tennis Center has changed the way the Cats train.

“It definitely came in handy a lot,” Wildcat No. 1 singles player Abby Rogers said. “I could just call someone up and say, ‘Hey, do you want to come hit?’ We could go right in and hit.”

Jasper was always diligent about its offseason work before, and with an indoor facility of its own, the fifth-ranked Cats (18-2) hope that factor can invigorate the program even more. They’ll host Saturday’s single-match semistate at 10 a.m. against Columbus North (16-8) at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex, which is just a shout from the indoor facility that allowed them to get a jump on the season.

Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough said that before, the girls team had somewhat of a disadvantage relative to the boys program, whose summer tennis season transitioned right into the fall season. With the girls, Yarbrough said, their momentum was fractured a bit with the spring and summer seasons followed by a lull in the winter, where playing once or twice per week was an admirable goal.

The Wildcat coach estimated that most of his players doubled their previous tennis time this past winter after the indoor facility’s opening in October. Take Rogers, for example, who took three lessons per week and said “I’m in there whenever (courts are) open.”

“If you can get in and hit three or four days a week, that’s a lot more than we ever did before,” Yarbrough said. “You cannot tell me that doesn’t make a little bit of a difference, as far as keeping a racket in their hand.”

That’s not the only benefit.

When rain intervened on practice days, the Cats used to shuttle over to French Lick most of the time, and they’ve been able to trim out that hour-plus detour. Players from other schools, most notably Forest Park, have rented one-hour segments at Jasper’s facility also. It suits the early risers (Yarbrough has seen players squeeze in court time at 7 a.m. before school) and also the night owls (courts can be reserved until 10 p.m.).

Jasper No. 3 singles player MeKenzie Hilsmeyer isn’t the only member of her family to utilize it; her mom, Carolyn, also takes a group lesson indoors in the cold-weather months.

Yarbrough also noted how it can reduce worry for a player like Hilsmeyer — a golfer who’s tied up in a fall sport and devotes much of her summer to golf but now can pencil in more tennis to her winter itinerary.

“It was so much more convenient, to be able to go out and hit whenever you want,” Hilsmeyer said with a smile and a tone of pure relief, as if she’d just stepped from outside in 100-degree heat into the air conditioning. “Whenever you want, whenever you feel like you can play or it’s a good time to play, you can (do it). ... It’s a three-minute drive.”

Or for some, a three-minute hike. Nearly all the Cats’ varsity team — Abby and Ashley Rogers, Hilsmeyer, Elizabeth Theil and Brooke Lueken — live close enough to walk or bike to the indoor center. That’s a luxury that Yarbrough doesn’t dismiss.

Many Wildcats’ parents were willing to cart their kids to Evansville in the past for lessons, but Yarbrough knows of many more who opted not to because of the distance.

“It makes a lot of decisions easier, it saved a lot of people money from a traveling standpoint,” Yarbrough said. “And I think for parents, the peace of mind their kids weren’t driving to Evansville or French Lick, or the fact they didn’t have to drive their kids to Evansville, that’s huge.”

There was no skimping on space or quality when it came to the new facility, either. Some indoor courts are notoriously cramped, with low ceilings and scant space on the side of the courts to run down a wide forehand, if need be. But there’s plenty of room to roam with the two courts at Jasper’s indoor home.

And judging from the amount of traffic Yarbrough saw at the indoor tennis center over the winter, it’s only going to make the Wildcats tougher to tackle once they head outdoors.

“I would say this is a huge step forward for the program,” Yarbrough said. “There’s absolutely no reason why we wouldn’t continue to have the success and have the numbers in the winter like we did this first year.”

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