Nostalgia, surprise mark doubles journeysMay 18, 2017
By BRENDAN PERKINS
JASPER — Fifth-graders may have an attention span as wide as a paperclip, but Caroline Theil picked up on a thing or two.
Theil was still in grade school during older sister Elizabeth’s jaunt to the state championship doubles match in 2011. Now a junior for Jasper’s ninth-ranked tennis team, Caroline can still see glimpses of that state runner-up run by Elizabeth and doubles partner Ashley Rogers. Elizabeth’s no-nonsense demeanor. Ashley’s wicked forehand.
“I definitely remember her state matches and just how intense they were, and how into it (Elizabeth) was. I think seeing that just kind of helped me get to where I am now for sure. It kind of motivated me a little bit,” Theil said after the Wildcats (13-4) blanked Southridge 5-0 in Wednesday’s sectional semifinals to reach today’s championship against Forest Park.
“It’s just kind of cool how everything’s kind of coming back full circle.”
Another Theil is presiding over the No. 1 doubles court at the Ed Yarbrough Complex, and these days, Caroline has sprouted into more of a contemporary with her sister’s former doubles partner. Rogers returned this season as an assistant coach during a layover in Jasper before heading to St. Louis University to get her master’s degree, and even though Rogers’ playing days ended when she went to Purdue, “she still has her game,” Theil said, “so she can give us a run for our money sometimes.”
“When I was little I always remember, ‘Oh, Ashley had the killer forehand and she was really good at the net. So when we get out there and we play with her, it’s always like, ‘OK, keep the ball away from Ashley’s forehand, and try not to let her put away balls at the net,” Theil said. “From when we were little, we kind of remember that stuff about everyone. It’s fun playing with her, especially becauses she tells us different stuff that (head coach Scott Yarbrough) doesn’t always tell us because she was a player for him, so she gets all that.”
When Caroline was younger, her fifth-grade hero worship wasn’t confined just to her sister or her doubles partner, but split into thirds to include Ashley’s twin sister, Abby, who played No. 1 singles during the era when Ashley and Elizabeth made another Final Four doubles run in 2012.
“All three of them I’ve always looked up to, but Elizabeth and I have always been pretty good friends. I mean, I consider her one of my best friends and role models,” Caroline said. “Just knowing she was my sister and a teammate, in a way, that I could look up to has always been pretty cool.”
The sisterly similarities run strong, from the braided pigtail and the visor right down to the killer instincts at the business end of matches. When Caroline and Olivia Yarbrough encountered a late blip after taking Wednesday’s first set 6-0 — which teammates Sarah Monesmith and Mallory Ahlbrand doubled up on in their 6-0, 6-0 singles wins — she channeled a stern finishing gear.
For a moment, Theil and Yarbrough were flirting with a three-setter with Southridge up 4-3. Moments later, the Cats safely tucked away a 6-0, 7-5 verdict.
“When (Elizabeth and I) get on the court, we know there’s business to get done and we want to get it done quick and we want to do it clean,” Theil said. “So I guess that’s why today the second set was kind of like, ‘This isn’t the way we play doubles.’ Some points were shaky and we just weren’t finishing stuff off, and we got back in our groove and got things going again.”
Tretter’s welcome shift
When Lauren Tretter put pen to paper, she could recognize the irony of the situation.
At the start of each season, Forest Park players are told to jot down what their lineup preference would be: singles or doubles. When Tretter thinks back to a few years ago, the senior has to laugh about her stance on the position she now occupies.
“My freshman year I did not want any part of doubles,” Tretter said. The prospect of playing alongside a partner “made me nervous more than confident like it does now. The other two years, I think I did put doubles first, and they’re like, ‘Haha, yeah right, that’s not happening.’”
“The past couple years I’ve kind of wanted to try (doubles), but we just haven’t the number of girls to fill in in JV and in varsity to really make that switch. And this year I did put doubles as what I would like to be my priority. They let me have a chance at it and it seemed to go really well, so I got to stay.”
Mind officially changed, Tretter and running mate Anna Becher helped the Rangers (7-8) land straight-set wins across the board — including Emmy Miller’s 6-0, 6-0 No. 2 singles shutout — to dump Pike Central 5-0. Some people love the grind of singles play and all the extra running and mileage that goes with it. “I thought I did,” Tretter said with a laugh, but now she’s found companionship that she couldn’t do without.
Becher’s primary wish was for a consistent doubles partner, “so that was my biggest fear,” Tretter said, about living up to the adjustment of migrating to No. 1 doubles from No. 2 singles. Tretter also wasn’t sure her coach would invest in a senior/junior doubles arrangement with she and Becher having only one season together.
Yet they got the call, and Thursday’s 6-0, 6-2 victory was well within the bounds of the catchphrase that Tretter and Becher have been trying to adhere to. Once an opponent wins three games in a set, Tretter and Becher like to say that’s all they’re getting.
“It’s our little inside joke — ‘At three, they’re done.’ Or sometimes in warmup we’ll say, ‘OK, maybe three this match, not this set,” Tretter said. “We always go in with a good goal, and I don’t think we’ve ever lost because of a mental attitude (problem), which is really nice because I think that bit me in the butt with singles. Kind of having (Anna) there to help me, and me help her, is really nice.”
Raider’s eventful ride
Leah Diekhoff leaves with a whole lot of wins, and even more connections.
That’s what will endure with Diekhoff, who spurred Southridge (14-2) to 42 team wins in her Raider career. The highlights? Well, some are quite literal, such as the black-and-red streaks Diekhoff and fellow senior Emily Eckert added to their hair the past few years prior to sectional. Thursday’s outing provided a worthy end note, too, as upon taking a 1-0 edge in the second set after losing the first 6-0, Diekhoff and No. 1 doubles partner Kenzie Lubbehusen exchanged high-fives through the fence with coach Rhonda Diekhoff.
“I’m proud to have my mom as a coach, and I think it’s great to have her support here, and on the court and everything,” Leah said. “Yeah, after that first game, I think that pushed us to keep trying to get more games here, and let’s get one more and one more and one more.”
They kept adding up until Jasper finished out a 7-5 set, though Diekhoff could only smile about some of the alliances gained through tennis. One occurred with her own doubles partner, as she and Lubbehusen started as relative strangers but ended up sharing occasional jokes and giggles on court. Diekhoff (a percussionist) and Evie Sherer (french horn) have made music together in the band, and with Sherer and No. 2 doubles partner Audra Hochgesang being best friends, “we’re all kind of just in a close circle,” Diekhoff said.
And those bonds certainly became more fibrous considering the Raiders’ season was defined by what they lost as much as what they won. Within a 14-match win streak to open the season, Southridge coped with the grief of losing JV player Lexi Mattingly, who passed away from a congenital heart condition. That became the chief challenge as well as the overriding inspiration.
“I think it was great that we kept pushing through that. I know Lexi would have wanted us to keep playing for her and everything. So I think it’s good that we did that, and we had a great season this year, we had a great team,” Leah Diekhoff said. “We’ve had hard times, but I think the memories will stay. We’ll always have those memories of her and of the team and this year.”
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