Titles, not time, are Jeeps’ motivating agent

Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Northeast Dubois’ Case Eisenhut returned a volley from Forest Park’s Collin Hochgesang in the first set of their match Tuesday afternoon in Dubois. Eisenhut defeated Hochgesang 6-0, 6-4. For more photos from the match, click here.

By COLIN LIKAS
clikas@dcherald.com

DUBOIS — Luke Harder and Ethan Ziegler don’t always agree, despite being partners at No. 2 doubles for the Northeast Dubois boys tennis team.

Does the duo compete with the Jeep No. 1 doubles pairing of Alex Bauer and Alex Harder to see which can finish a match quickest?

“Not usually,” Luke Harder said after Tuesday’s tilt against Forest Park.

“Sometimes,” Ziegler followed.

A short time later, Ziegler was talking about the Northeast Dubois upperclassmen and identified four seniors. Luke Harder interjected, pointing out there are only three on the team.

“Feels like four,” Ziegler countered.

Still, point to Luke Harder.

You can add that to the 12 games the two collected en route to a 6-0, 6-0 home-court sweep of the Rangers’ Joe Hurst and Dalton Streicher, getting the Jeeps off and running in a 4-1 victory.

Luke Harder and Ziegler, both sophomores, needed barely 30 minutes to cement their triumph, and the senior combo of Bauer and Alex Harder wrapped up a bout with Rangers Aaron Welp and Aaron Hurst less than 10 minutes later, winning 6-1, 6-1.

“Usually it’s pretty quick on both courts, especially kind of (playing) alongside of each other,” Alex Harder said. “When you see you’re beating them by a game or two, then it’s a friendly, ‘I got you beat’ or whatever.”

If this match was held earlier in the season, maybe bragging rights would be on the line between the Northeast Dubois doubles participants. Not that the Jeeps (12-0) are keeping such a close count with the postseason looming in a few weeks.

“At the beginning of the year, we’re doing that a lot,” Luke Harder said. “But it’s time to buckle down and win the sectional and regional.”

Northeast Dubois, which has come out on top in its last 88 regular-season matches, has also taken four straight sectional crowns, though the latter streak carries more weight for the Jeeps.

“If we win this year, it’ll be up to five, and that’s the main goal,” Alex Harder said. “Instead of just the regular-season goal, we focus more on the sectional and making that number rise.”

Key to that will be how the two doubles teams perform. They offer a contrast of experience and styles, with the senior pair wielding more of a power game while the sophomore duo seems to return every shot and wait out opponents’ mistakes.

Bauer said the big overhead both he and Harder utilize works well for doubles play because it’s a difficult shot to return. It also shows off a level of activity that Jeep coach Dwayne Knies constantly preaches.

“We want our doubles teams to be aggressive,” Knies said. “We’re constantly talking to them about being more aggressive and getting to the net. One doubles, they seem to be ... definitely more aggressive than our 2 doubles team.”

Another difference between the duos is how long they’ve been together. Ziegler joined Luke Harder at No. 2 doubles last season, while Alex Harder and Bauer were put together just recently this fall as Knies is “trying to piece the puzzle together.”

The combinations paid off for Northeast Dubois against Forest Park, in both doubles and singles. In the latter, Case Eisenhut was a 6-1, 6-4 winner over Collin Hochgesang at No. 1 while Reece Bauer picked up a 6-1, 4-6, (10-3) victory against Reid Steffe at No. 2 via a 10-point tiebreaker. Forest Park's Nathan Jarboe downed Lane Knies 4-6, 6-0, (10-2) in a battle of freshmen at No. 3, but that also came down to a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a third set.

Coach Dean Blessinger said his Rangers (4-3) use the matchup as a barometer, knowing the Jeeps’ success in recent years.

“These guys are the best program on our schedule right now,” Blessinger said. “We had designs on trying to steal three points somewhere. They were just a little better than us.”

Jarboe came back from a first-set stumble, after which he and Blessinger had what the coach called a “spirited conversation.” It seemed to turn the tide.

Blessinger will need Jarboe and the rest of the Rangers to be at their best down the stretch as they seek a second consecutive Pocket Athletic Conference title. Forest Park has never grabbed back-to-back league titles in school history, and a loss to Heritage Hills earlier this season dinged the team’s chances.

But with three conference matches to play and the Rangers sitting at 4-1, Blessinger is hopeful 7-1 could earn a share of the crown.

“I always ask my kids, ‘What do you want your tennis legacy to be at Forest Park?’” Blessinger said. “These guys have a chance to do something (past players) never did. That’s what the goal is, so those matches are huge.”

As for Northeast Dubois, the next item on its radar is another sectional trophy. After that, the focus likely turns to trying to get by Jasper, which has eliminated the Jeeps in the regional round each of the last four seasons. Knies attempted to help his team better prepare for a postseason meeting with the Wildcats by entering the Jeeps in the Jasper Invitational last week, an experience both the coach and his athletes agreed was a positive one.

Reaching a new level of success in the state competition would certainly fall in that category as well.

“We just want to focus on playing good tennis, getting better, and whatever comes our way tournament time, hopefully we’ll be ready for it,” Knies said. “We’re going to take it one step at a time.”




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