Seniors provide leadership, stability at top spot

Photos by Nic Antaya/The Herald
Jasper's Eli Franks hits the ball in his No. 1 singles match against Pike Central's Ethan Huck during the tennis sectional on Wednesday in Jasper. Franks was victorious 6-0, 6-0 and has continued to show improvement after moving up from playing the No. 3 and No. 2 singles positions the past two seasons. For more photos from the match, click here.

By HENDRIX MAGLEY
hmagley@dcherald.com

JASPER — After spending his entire junior season playing at the No. 2 singles position, senior Reid Steffe knew to expect some challenges for his final year of high school tennis as he was bumped up to the No. 1 singles spot.

Perhaps his biggest challenge of the season will take place on Thursday afternoon — a battle with Jasper for sectional superiority.

“Oh, I’m looking forward to it,” said Steffe about the upcoming sectional championship rematch from last year against the Wildcats. “I’m just going to go out there and give it my best shot.”

Wednesday afternoon marked the beginning of sectional season for boys tennis as Jasper defeated Pike Central 5-0 and Forest Park beat Southridge 4-1 to set up a repeat of last year’s sectional title bout. Jasper is seeking their 13th straight sectional championship while Forest Park is searching for their first trophy since 1977.

Jasper, Southridge and Forest Park all received tremendous leadership this season from their No. 1 singles players — Eli Franks, Carson Mundy and Reid Steffe. An interesting fact about the three seniors? None of them had played at the No. 1 spot prior to this season.

Franks had spent the past few seasons between the No. 2 and No. 3 singles positions but moved up to the No. 1 spot in stride, replacing Dawson Hopf who graduated last season. Franks admitted that it was a little stressful at the beginning of the season but as the year went on, things began to come to him naturally.

“The beginning of the year was a little different because there was pressure because you know you’re going to be facing tough people every night. I almost felt like I had to win every night because I was playing at the No. 1 singles spot,” said Franks, who was victorious 6-0, 6-0 over Pike Central’s Ethan Huck. “But once I got more used to it, there wasn’t any pressure. It made it easier and now I just go out there and have fun.”

While the beginning of the year was a little nerve-wracking, Franks said taking home the first place trophy at the Jeffersonville Invitational against some pretty tough competition helped him relax more and it was there he realized he had what it took to compete with the top competitors around the state of Indiana.

For example, just last weekend he had to face players from No. 1 Carmel, No. 2 Homestead and No. 5 Center Grove at an invitational and he’s expecting to face more as the Cats hope to have a lengthy postseason run after finishing as the state runner-up last season. The tough competition, along with his weight loss, have helped to propel him to an entire new platform.

“When you jump from a No. 2 or No. 3 singles position to a No. 1 spot, you don’t have too many nights off because you don’t really ever have what I would consider ‘easy wins’,” said Jasper head coach Scott Yarbrough. “We’ve also talked a lot about his improved conditioning — you have to be able to hang around for 14 swings instead of six, return 110 mile per hour serves instead of 90. Everything is faster and players are bigger, faster and stronger (at the No. 1 spot).”

Forest Park tennis players observe the national anthem before the tennis sectional on Wednesday in Jasper. The Rangers defeated Southridge 4-1 and will face Jasper in today's sectional championship at 4:30. The Rangers are searching for their first sectional title since 1977. For more photos from the match, click here.

For Forest Park, the Rangers have had a long line of successful No. 1 singles player and Steffe is just the latest to follow that trend.

Collin Hochgesang, who graduated last season, held down the No. 1 singles spot for the past two seasons but head coach Dean Blessinger knew he had a talented player waiting in the wings to take over at the helm once Hochgesang graduated.

“We knew (Reid) was going to be a good No. 1 singles player but he was stuck behind another good No. 1 singles player,” said Blessinger. “Collin (Hochgesang) gets credit for helping make Reid a better No. 1 because those two played a ton last year and I told Collin that he had to help get Reid ready for this year and now Reid is already getting Nathan (Jarboe) ready for next year.”

Blessinger refers to Steffe as “The Silent Assassin” because he won’t necessarily dominate you with flashy shots but he does all the little things right in a match and has continued to show growth over the year as he works to fine tune even more aspects of his game.

“Knowing I was going to be the No. 1 singles player after last year really prepared me a lot for this season,” said Steffe who won 6-1, 6-1 over Mundy. “It’s just been a much faster pace so you just have to really pick up your game. I knew I’d have to get better this past offseason since I was playing at the No. 1 spot and earlier this season at the North Harrison invitational was when I really started to feel good.”

For Southridge, Mundy moved up to the No. 1 singles spot this season after Logan Welp graduated and moved on to Brescia University to play collegiate tennis.

He was prepared to face a rather heavy challenge this season by moving up the ranks and he felt that he was able to handle the pressure that he faced on a nightly basis rather well.

“I mean, playing at the No. 1 singles spot compared to any other singles spot is just a completely different ballgame,” said Mundy. “I know that I always had to bring my A-game or otherwise I was going to get beat. You just have to have that mentality and bring it every night.”

Forest Park head coach Dean Blessinger talks with Southridge's Carson Mundy after Mundy's No. 1 singles match against Forest Park's Reid Steffe during the tennis sectional on Wednesday in Jasper. Steffe defeated Mundy 6-1, 6-1 in a battle of seniors at the No. 1 spot. For more photos from the match, click here.

While his high school tennis career may have come to an end, Mundy believes there are several life lessons that playing tennis has taught him and he looks to carry those with him into his post-high school education.

“You just have to work through whatever comes your way,” Mundy said. “You’re going to be dealt some different things but you just have to find a way to deal with them and go from there.”




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