Rangers turning point came in county rivalry

Photo by Hunter Tickel/The Herald
Sophomore Kristopher Fuhrman makes contact with a backhand swing against Washington on Saturday at Heritage Hills. Fuhrman is the No. 2 singles on the team after playing doubles last year. He edged junior Eli Newberry, 6-2, 6-3 in a continuation 3-2 win after Tuesday was rained out. The Rangers face Jasper at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.


FERDINAND — The annual renewing of the Forest Park and Southridge tennis rivalry is a signature match for the Rangers.

In many cases, the outcome can spur the second half of the season.

The Rangers (8-7, 7-4) edged their county foe 3-2 on Sept. 7, the start of a five-game winning streak in the Pocket Athletic Conference to turn the corner, coach Dean Blessinger said.

“We are playing better tennis finally,” Blessinger said. “When the calendar turns to September, if I don’t see the improvement I’m looking for, I start to become a salty coach. Tennis is a game where you got to take care of your own business. You certainly can worry about the opponent when it becomes match time, see what they’re doing.”

Forest Park is in the process of winding down its regular season this week — losing to Gibson Southern 4-1 on Monday and is scheduled to play Tuesday at home against Boonville.

Then, there are two matches in two days to decide the sectional Jasper.

In addition to Southridge, the Rangers have defeated Pike Central but they’ll get their first look against Jasper Wednesday, when they play the host Wildcats in the sectional semifinals.

Prior to the draw, Blessinger likened a potential bout with sectional favorite and top-heavy Jasper to David vs. Goliath.

“Jasper is a juggernaut, they have all the pieces in place to always be good,” Blessinger said. “If you are going to build a program and model somebody, it would be a good place to start.”

Jasper has won 15 straight sectionals, advanced to the state semifinals last year and the program has captured 40 sectionals — this is the 55th tournament.

Part of the Rangers squad consists of No. 3 singles junior Conner Tretter, while also having sophomore Carter Fleck and junior Bryson Partenheimer at No. 1 doubles and freshmen Brock Schuler and Elijah Brosmer at No. 2 doubles.

Blessinger said the team only had three experienced players returning to the lineup. One of them is junior Landon Marks, who played No. 3 singles last year and is now following in the footsteps of the graduated Nathan Jarboe at the No. 1 singles slot.

“You can talk about how tough it is to play the upper singles positions, particularly No. 1,” Blessinger said. “You can witness it. We had a (heck) of a singles player last year and he had been for two years. He’s now playing at Franklin College, Nathan Jarboe. So I guarantee you, go around the conference or talk to any head coach and if you got a really good No. 1 singles player, you’ve got the anchor to your team.”

Marks won the deciding set Saturday in a 3-2 victory against Washington at Heritage Hills with aggressive action at the net using shifty, silent feet to pop up without his opponent’s knowledge. His style helps kill points faster.

“Right now, coming into sectionals (is exciting),” Marks said. “(We) are doing pretty well right now. Hopefully, we can make it pretty far.”

The No. 2 is sophomore Kristopher Fuhrman, who arrived late this year after going through wrestling camps during the season for his primary sport.

“He’s got an aggressive mentality, too,” Blessinger said. “Kris has got a big forehand, which is his weapon. We need (to) work on his serving and getting him to come to the net a little more. He wasn’t eligible to play the third week, almost the fourth week of the season.”

Last year, he played No. 2 doubles for a significant jump this year.

“Two-singles is a whole different world coming in (for) a sophomore right up into it,” Fuhrman said. “It’s really hard and difficult, but it’s a good learning experience.”

He registered a 6-2, 6-3 win over junior Eli Newberry in the resumed match against the Hatchets. The road ahead is foreign to him.

“Through the regular season, it almost seems like everything you do doesn’t matter as much but when you get up here, every point matters a lot,” Fuhrman said. “I’m kind of excited, especially for sectionals. It’s going to be really cool and it’s going to be new to me. It’s going to be a really good learning experience. I’m just ready to go out there and try it.”

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com