Tourney sweep reveals mental muscleSeptember 16, 2013
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
JASPER — At the point Luke Hochgesang and Joe Kemker were behind 6-5 in the second set and also trailed in that critical game, the Vegas oddsmakers probably didn’t favor the Jasper No. 1 doubles pair for winning the set.
Someone else did expect it. As Bloomington South players sat in the grass outside the fence to see the match’s conclusion in Saturday’s Jasper Eight-Team Invitational, their assistant coach piped up with a prediction.
“I think Jasper’s going to win,” he whispered to the players, “because they tend to be better mentally.”
Even when lodged in ominous positions.
Hochgesang and Kemker lagged behind 3-0 in the first set, 6-5 in the second set and 3-1 in the tiebreaker. They won 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), applying the final touch to the Wildcats’ undefeated run through their own invitational. By going 3-0 and seizing championships at all five positions, Jasper accumulated 60 points to nearly double up second-place New Albany (31) while 19th-ranked Bloomington South (29) was third. With Matt Miller winning his opener in the No. 2 singles bracket for Forest Park’s lone win of the weekend, the Rangers (8) were eighth behind fourth-place Silver Creek (22), Castle (20), Vincennes Rivet (18) and Corydon Central (12).
Unscathed didn’t mean untested for the seventh-ranked Cats, who aced any test lobbed their way. Logan Mathies pulled away 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 in his semifinals at No. 3 singles against an aggressive Silver Creek serve-and-volleyer who stood about 6-foot-6. A second-set lull didn’t impede Ben Seng and Nick Monesmith, who dropped Castle 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in the finale of the No. 2 doubles bracket. And when Eli Seng trailed 5-4 in the second set of the No. 1 singles championship, well, you can guess what transpired.
“We don’t win them all, but I think the more times you put yourselves in close situations and you find a way to win ... I don’t think you have an edge on people, but I think you have more confidence in yourself in that you don’t get nervous,” Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough said. “The way you handle yourself emotionally and mentally in tight situations is far more important than what you’re doing physically.”
Yarbrough is there to lasso anyone potentially skidding off the rails mentally; when Grant Weaver angrily growled at himself upon losing a point in his final match Saturday, Yarbrough calmly said “easy out there” to his No. 2 singles player. Any frustration was sporadic, though, for Weaver, who Yarbrough said was “an animal this weekend” in winning three sets 6-0 and not playing a set closer than 6-2.
Every other Wildcat encountered some measure of stress, including Hochgesang and Kemker. But by now, that’s old hat. The No. 1 doubles pair has already played four tiebreakers in matches this season. They’ve won them all, including a 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) finish against New Albany in Saturday’s semifinal round.
Hochgesang, a senior in his first year of varsity tennis, remembered the days of JV tennis when his matches finished in a hurry and he could park himself behind the varsity courts to root on those guys. He expected the same routine with varsity, only now, Hochgesang is typically among the last guys on the court.
“It’s not been like that at all, because we’ve had so many tiebreakers. It’s nice though, I enjoy it,” he said. “I guess I’m an attention-seeker. I enjoy the attention. I feel like it almost helps me calm down and be like, ”˜All right, all these people are watching, you have to play well.’”
No sweat, he says.
“It’s easy to get really nervous and thrown off,” Hochgesang added. “Somehow we’ve been able to keep our composure this year, and I think that comes with being a little older, three seniors playing varsity. That helps a lot.”
Who best handles stress? Hochgesang’s vote went to the Cats’ No. 1 singles player: “I’d say Eli’s pretty clutch,” he said.
Seng remained cool amid a 6-4, 7-5 escape in the championship, even when his 4-0 lead in the first set melted and when he faced a game point at 6-5 in the second set that would have extended things to a tiebreaker. The senior navigated his way out of trouble both times against Bloomington South’s Will Piekarsky, a sophomore who became frazzled at times in questioning line calls — including a feisty challenge after match point when his ball dropped just beyond the baseline.
Seng sees premier opponents regularly, but he credits his composure to the work he puts in when the scores don’t matter as much.
“We have a good team, so practicing against good competition usually everyday prepares us for those close matches,” Seng said. “Most people don’t have as good of a 2 or 3 (singles player) as we do, so it’s good that they push me.”
Other factors are at work, too. Seng’s ability to finish easy points at the net can be a life preserver in stressful spots, Yarbrough said. Hochgesang gave a nod to the team’s conditioning, explaining why three-setters aren’t so bad. And Yarbrough said the sheer amount of year-round tennis that Eli Seng, Weaver and Mathies have accrued goes a long way to ease the mind when the scores tighten.
That’ll win you close battles, Yarbrough said. And a raid of all 15 matches, as Yarbrough couldn’t remember the last time the Cats won every match at every position at their invitational.
“To sweep the tournament is very sweet. This has probably been a while coming,” Yarbrough said. “It was a really good weekend.”
Contact Brendan Perkins at email@example.com.
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