Senior savoring swings after waiting process

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper’s Kendra Seger slammed a backhand during Saturday’s Jasper Four-Team Invitational at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex, where the Cats topped Avon 4-1 and Greenwood 3-2, but fell to McCracken County (Ky.) 4-1 in Jasper’s middle match. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — Yes, Kendra Seger is finally a varsity tennis player.

No, the thought of quitting the sport was never on the radar of the Jasper senior basking in her one and only year in the varsity mix.

Yes, Seger admits she still frets about her job security from time to time.

Seger feels relieved. Rewarded. Stressed out, still. Such is life when you’ve finally ascended to that varsity destination for Jasper’s 12th-ranked tennis team — though there are no promises for just about any Wildcat as the flipping and flopping and experimenting rages on.

Elisabeth Ahlbrand can relate, as she and Seger have laid in waiting to wiggle into a lineup vacated by four graduated standouts last spring. While the arrangement of the Wildcat lineup has remained malleable through the first few weeks of the season, it’s starting to take form. The process continued in Saturday’s Jasper Four-Team Tournament, where the Cats ditched Avon 4-1, then lost by the same score to Kentucky power McCracken County before ending their day by nudging out fifth-ranked Greenwood 3-2.

Seger may have lost her first two matches of the tourney, but it’s days like these — the early-morning-to-mid-afternoon marathons in which the Cats gauge themselves against elite competition — that make the patience pay off for players like Seger.

“I’ve been waiting ever since I was little to play varsity,” she said. “If I’m playing (doubles at) 1 or 2, (it doesn’t matter), I love playing 2 doubles. I love it. I’m glad I get to play, I wouldn’t change it. I would have never quit, even if I wouldn’t have played varsity this year, I would still keep playing. Because it’s our life,” Seger finished, laughing along with Ahlbrand.

It’s not that this year’s band of Wildcats were eager to shoo last year’s talented senior group out the door, but “those are four spots that haven’t been available for a while,” Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough said. “They’re going to miss those girls, but they also know four spots are going to open up.”

The audition progress has required attentiveness all around.

The only girl to play the same position in all 10 matches so far has been No. 1 singles player Maria Lueken, who waltzed to a 6-0, 6-0 sweep against Avon on Saturday while surrendering her final two matches. The Cats (7-3) have used about a half-dozen different lineups already. And with parity reigning, Ahlbrand has found herself playing everywhere from No. 1 doubles on varsity to No. 1 doubles on JV.

“It definitely makes you keep working hard, because you know you can’t slack off one day or you’re going to be the one to get knocked down,” Ahlbrand said.

Added Seger: “(Coach Yarbrough) watches us ... and we know it.”

In past years, Ahlbrand said, there was a certain amount of resignation that the lineup was going to be populated by the more polished elders.

If anything, now that they’re in the upper tier, the pressure’s on now more than ever.

“It’s actually more nerve-racking, because we were like, we have to get a spot this year, we have to play well,” Seger said. “We knew last year, we had a chance, but” ... “we pretty much knew the lineup,” Ahlbrand concluded.  

“There were some openings,” Seger said, “and we knew we had to fill them and we had to” ... “live up to (Coach’s) standards.” Ahlbrand again finished.

Ahlbrand and No. 1 doubles partner Brooke Lueken accomplished that, as Yarbrough assessed they were “a bit more active” Saturday and finished 3-0, including a 1-6, 6-4, (12-10) rally past McCracken County.

For a team in flux, some of the lessons are tough and some are well-earned. Exhibit A: the Greenwood match. Yarbrough flipped the order of his other two interchangeable singles players, using Anna Flick at No. 3 and playing his daughter, Emma, at No. 2. Emma found herself trying to keep pace with Jackie Kawamoto, Indiana’s reigning state singles champion who actually stepped down to No. 2 while her twin sister, Jade Kawamoto, took the No. 1 position this season. While Emma Yarbrough absorbed a 6-0, 6-0 setback, Flick fought off Makenzie Estrem 3-6, 6-0, (10-6) to earn Jasper’s decisive win.

Meanwhile, Kendra Seger and cousin Emma brushed off two defeats at No. 2 doubles by toppling Greenwood 6-3, 6-2. A few days earlier at 2 doubles, the Cats had third-ranked Evansville Memorial pinned down triple-match point early in the third set but couldn’t hold the lead. Saturday, the first match for the Segers got away after they grabbed the first set 6-0. But the fact they presented a fight in rallying from 4-1 down to level at 5 indicated to Yarbrough that the prevailing direction for his newcomers is the right one, even if a few wobbles appear.

“From a coaching standpoint, nothing’s more rewarding than watching a kid start here,” Yarbrough said, marking the starting point with his hand near his waist, “and then grow into a great player or a good player or an aggressive player by the end of the season. That’s a lot of fun.

“It’s real great to see Kendra Seger having fun and enjoying herself ... To see a senior — any senior, really — wait her time and then get a chance to play, it’s always exciting. Elisabeth Ahlbrand, she’s kind of waited her time, too. It’s neat watching new kids take over those spots, it really is.”

Contact Brendan Perkins

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