Fussy duo aims to be more worry-freeApril 15, 2013
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
JASPER — Elizabeth Theil has just strutted to three straight-set doubles wins in less than a day. And still, the hint of anxiety surfaces.
The Jasper senior’s left leg bobs up and down continuously as she talks about her final year of tennis as her doubles partner of three years, Ashley Rogers, sits a few feet away. There’s nothing for Theil to be nervous about — not now, when she’s answering questions, or when she’s on the court, as she and Rogers comprise what’s been one of the state’s premier doubles tandems for three years running.
But Theil admits she’s nervous. The skittishness hardly ever relents. Rogers is much the same way.
If anything, you’d guess that a doubles merger that’s gone 58-8 over the last two-plus seasons would need an ego-mashing reality check. Theil and Rogers, however, find themselves continually trying to mine confidence. Take Rogers’ raw self-analysis, that “we aren’t playing as well as we want to be playing.”
“I think when we were sophomores knowing that we had two more years, we just went out there and played and had fun with it,” Theil said. “Now that we know it’s coming down and we’re going to be graduating soon, I don’t think we want to lose so we try to play safe, but in the back of our heads, we know (we should) play our game like we did sophomore year. (Coach Scott Yarbrough) always says we need to go back and play like we did sophomore year.”
If Theil and Rogers didn’t display that with their psyche this weekend, they certainly did with their results.
The seniors captured three victories as the fourth-ranked Cats bounced No. 9 Greenwood 4-1 and Providence 5-0 Saturday, after Friday’s 3-2 setback to Kentucky power Lone Oak, a Paducah school ranked in the top five in the Commonwealth.
Brooke Lueken and MeKenzie Hilsmeyer, the Cats’ No. 2 doubles pair, also swept all three of their matches on the weekend, No. 1 singles player Abby Rogers prevailed 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) against Providence’s Jacqueline Hollkamp, and Maria Lueken and Anna Flick each finished 2-0 in singles Saturday as Jasper (8-2) sprang back after the Lone Oak loss by handling Greenwood, a team that joined the Cats as one of last year’s eight state finalists.
Theil and Rogers played even deeper into June last season, landing fourth in the individual doubles state finals after coming one win shy of a state title the year before. With the postseason hovering a month away, Rogers said the prospect of living up to the same team and individual goals is the root of her and her partner’s anxiety.
Even if they’re not satiated with their own level of play, there’s still a lot to like.
Yarbrough said “they serve and volley as well as anybody I’ve ever had” and added Theil and Rogers are as aggressive a doubles team as there is. If anything, Yarbrough said, Theil and Rogers would benefit from thinking less. Yarbrough, who’s in his third season coaching the girls team after leading the boys program for 10 seasons, said his doubles duo’s apprehension may just be a matter of biology.
Boys make a mistake, Yarbrough said, and they cast it aside, look forward to the next point. Girls don’t have the same short-term memory, he said.
“As sophomores they just didn’t worry about mistakes, and now I think they worry too much. They question themselves a little bit instead of just going out and playing and not worrying about all the mistakes,” Yarbrough said. “The maturing process is good and also bad.”
The perfectionism bites Rogers in moments such as when she lofts a wayward serve toss that she knows she should catch and retry, but strikes the ball anyway. Theil chides herself when she makes contact with volleys behind her body, knowing that she could properly pounce with more attentive footwork.
Theil and Rogers are shrewd enough that they’re capable of picking out each other’s flaws. They’re just not always apt to voice the constructive criticism.
They’re a bit like an old married couple in that regard, and Theil and Rogers locked eyes and laughed while wondering aloud why their communication dims at times on the court when they need it the most.
“I know what she’s thinking...,” Rogers said.
“And I know what she’s doing wrong...,” Theil continued.
“And I’m not going to say something to her because it might make her mad,” Rogers finished.
They may be fussy about their own games, but Yarbrough doesn’t worry too much about either one.
He’s seen them save their most pristine and clutch tennis for the postseason in the last two years. Should that happen again, Theil and Rogers may creep back to the point where they’re satisfied. Finally.
“We know how good we are. We know our capability, and we just have to play up to it,” Theil said.
Interjected Rogers: “Whenever we worry too much, we aren’t playing well. We know that we have to go out and play aggressive, and if we don’t do that, we aren’t going to get anywhere.
“I think whenever we put our fears behind us, we’ll be playing fine.”
Contact Brendan Perkins at email@example.com.
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