Pursuit of first title finally complete for Jeeps


Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Northeast Dubois seniors Tyler Haas, left, Ethan Kieffner, Gage Knies and Bill Schepers raised a sectional trophy for the first time in the history of the boys program Thursday evening at Loogootee. The Jeeps ended the wait with a decisive 5-0 victory over Barr-Reeve. Next, they’ll get a crack at ninth-ranked Jasper in Tuesday’s regional semifinals on the Wildcats’ home courts. For a gallery of more photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

LOOGOOTEE — Sorry, Jennifer Schepers, but the glimmer of your championship now has some competition.

Part of the Northeast Dubois girls tennis squad that captured a sectional trophy last spring to break a 24-year drought, Jennifer ruled the roost over her twin brother, Bill, for a while. Now, that might be a topic of hearty sibling debate.

“She kind of has bragging rights. She won it first,” said Bill, a senior. “But I kind of have bragging rights, because this is the first time in our history.”

More than three and a half decades’ worth of waiting and angst dissipated on one gleeful evening Thursday at Loogootee for the Jeep boys tennis team. Batting away a challenge from frisky Barr-Reeve, Northeast Dubois paired the typical with the unprecedented. A 5-0 victory — their 15th of the season — netted the Jeeps the program’s first sectional title.

Northeast Dubois (18-0) may have been the decisive favorite and the regular season may have seemed like merely a countdown to an inevitable sectional breakthrough. But even when it did arrive — as the team attacked the sectional trophy like sharks upon receiving it and Gage Knies even gave it a smooch — the Jeeps were still left in wide-eyed awe.

“There’s really no words for it. I’m sure it’s going to hit me later, but it’s awesome. This feels amazing right now,” said Knies, who wrapped up the sweep by fending off Tyler Bennett 7-5, 7-6 (7-2).

“First-ever sectional championship, and that means so much to our school and to our program. Ever since we were freshmen, our seniors have been fighting for it. This whole entire group, this core, we’ve been fighting for it for a couple years now. And finally, we came through. It really feels great after the grueling work and getting better every year, and now finally we got over that little edge to finally win a sectional.”

The coronation had a familiar flavor to it, as Jeep parents, grandparents, family and friends provided an energetic backdrop to a match Northeast Dubois seized control of early.

Tyler Haas, who controlled a 6-1 6-0 verdict at No. 1 singles in a half-hour, has also been waging a friendly battle with a sibling as of late. Tyler compares this year’s Jeeps with older brother Kyle’s team that went undefeated in the regular season when he was a junior.

So who wins that fantasy matchup?

“I say our team. Surprisingly, my brother says their team,” Tyler said with a grin. “So it would be close, and I’ll give him that much, but I think we’d win.”

Before the Jeeps were reassigned to the Loogootee sectional two years ago, Kyle’s squad entered the crosshairs of Jasper early in the postseason. Same for the 2002 team, which nearly upended the Wildcats but lost in a 3-2 battle decided by a three-setter.

Assistant coach Dwayne Knies can think of a handful of Jeep teams that were undefeated or had a shot but never unearthed sectional glory. He lived it firsthand as a junior in 1985, when his team beat Barr-Reeve in the regular season but lost 3-2 to the Vikings in the sectional finale.

“I never really got over that. It just hurt. This kind of makes up for it, I think,” Dwayne said. “That’s why it was so important for me, I think, having two boys on the team and knowing that I never had a chance to win one, and nobody (had either). And we had good teams over the years.”

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Northeast Dubois sophomore Cayden Knies followed through on a backhand during his 6-0, 6-1 rout of Jeff Parson. Knies is undefeated over the last two seasons at No. 3 singles.

Dwayne’s other son, Cayden, waltzed to a 6-0, 6-1 victory at No. 3 singles, as the sophomore lengthened his undefeated mark at the position over the last two years.

After Haas and Cayden Knies bagged early wins, the Jeeps needed just one more match to make things official.

For a while, that same feeling nipped at the Jeeps as they’d experienced in their 36-year wait: The sectional was tantalizingly close, but they couldn’t grab it.

Both Jeep doubles squads were on the verge, almost simultaneously up 5-2 in the second set. Barr-Reeve (14-8) didn’t relent, grabbing the next four games at No. 2 and inching within 5-3 at No. 1.

Northeast Dubois head coach Tracy Gutgsell and the rest of the Jeep contingent squirmed. But when Barr-Reeve sailed a lob deep, sealing a 6-3, 6-3 triumph for Schepers and Tristan Linne at No. 1 doubles, the pair sprang in the air for a chest bump and a hug.

Elation and a championship. Finally.

“It was a great feeling,” Schepers said. “I kept my eye on the other matches ... I saw they were up 5-2 (at 2 doubles). I kind of wanted to get the (win) to clinch it. Unfortunately they started slipping, but we picked it up and we eventually came and got it.”

The Jeeps got every last bit of the spoils, too.

Even after the win was official, Gutgsell’s wish was to complete the sweep so someone’s celebration wasn’t dimmed by an individual loss. Mission accomplished, as No. 2 doubles pair Ethan Kieffner and Patrick Betz scratched out a 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) victory. The duo hasn’t lost a match all fall, and for Kieffner, it’s a world away from where he started. Three years ago, Gutgsell had to recruit players to field a full varsity seven, and Kieffner — whose lone victory his freshman year came with an asterisk — was among the draftees.

“It feels amazing going from freshman year to not winning anything but one (match) because of a forfeit to winning sectional senior year — first ever, at that,” Kieffner said. “I found out that it’s a sport I enjoy, so I put everything toward it.”

The past also made the present party sweeter for two of the team’s other seniors. Schepers, still sounding slightly glum about the memory, recalled last year’s sectional loss came on his birthday. Haas lost individually in that 3-2 setback to Loogootee, and that partly fueled his runaway Thursday.

“I was on a mission,” he said.

With that finally complete, it was time to party. At Haysville, the team bus joined a fire truck escort back to the school. And the Jeeps couldn’t leave before drenching their coach with ice water. Gutgsell whimpered that she didn’t have a change of dry clothes. But the trade-off wasn’t so bad.

“I don’t have words for it, honestly. I mean, I can’t believe it,” Gutgsell said.

“I think we’re just in shock. They’ll forever be the first ones to take home the sectional title. This team will forever be the first one. I’m speechless. It is awesome.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.

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