Wildcat thinks bigger in No. 1 takeover

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
After laying in wait as Jasper’s No. 2 singles player for the last two seasons, Sarah Monesmith has elevated to the No. 1 singles post for the Wildcats and the junior is adjusting by adding some aggressive upgrades to her game. Saturday, Monesmith won two of her three matches as the ninth-ranked Cats also earned two wins in the Jasper Four-Team Invitational, topping Floyd Central and Bloomington South while falling to McCracken County (Ky.).
For more photos from the match, click here.


JASPER — Sarah Monesmith is nearing the end of a transformation.

The junior entered this tennis season prepared to take on the No. 1 singles spot for Jasper after accruing a 44-6 record over the last two years at No. 2 singles. Now that she’s in the top slot, Wildcat coach Scott Yarbrough said she needed a serve to match. Not that her serve was lacking the first place, but if she was still looking to pick up what Yarbrough calls "free points" in her new position, it just needed a little tweaking.

“It’s a little bit of a work in progress, but she’s trying to get to the point where she’s a little more aggressive with her serve, so what you’re going to see is, you’re going to see some winners and some aces and some balls not coming back,” Yarbrough said. “But at the same time with being aggressive you’re going to see some extra double faults.”

That was the case Saturday, where Monesmith closed out a busy day at the Jasper Four-Team Invitational with a 6-0, 6-2 win against Maya Mills of Bloomington South. Many of the points Monesmith lost while she was serving came via double faults, but that’s part of the experimentation process.

So far, even in the few weeks since the season has started, it’s starting to yield big results. That’s helped her transition on the No. 1 court, where she’s breezed to wins like the one against Bloomington South and a 6-2, 6-0 verdict over Floyd Central’s Haley Palmer. Those triumphs helped ninth-ranked Jasper cruise past Bloomington South 5-0 after topping Floyd Central 4-1.

Jasper's Mallory Ahlbrand served during Saturday's Jasper Four-Team Invitational in Jasper. For more photos from the match, click here.

The Wildcats (3-2) lost 3-2 in the middle match of the day to McCracken County, which Yarborugh said might be the best program in Kentucky that Jasper has never managed to break through against in his time as coach, but Saturday was “as close as we’ve ever been.” That match featured the more rigorous side of No. 1 singles for Monesmith, who lost 6-1, 6-1 to Michelle McKamey, the 2014 Kentucky state champ and state runner-up the last two years who’s committed to play at Indiana University.

“It’s definitely a big difference,” Monesmith said about the transition to No. 1 singles. “I feel like playing all year round definitely helps with it. I’ve played a lot and tried to stay more competitive with these tougher matches this year, but so far the transition has been tough but it’s been really good.”

It’s nothing Monesmith has never seen before. She played in about four or five tournaments this winter through the USTA circuit while traveling to Chicago and Cincinnati for  more high-profile events, Yarbrough said. Monesmith has been playing tennis year-round since she could hold a racket, essentially, and of course there were the trips to the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex to watch her older sister, Lauren, and her older brother, Nick.

Lauren handled the No. 1 singles responsibilities her junior and senior years before graduating in 2011, like Sarah is poised for now, while Nick played his part on a doubles team on Jasper’s Final Four squad in 2014.

“I used to love going to watch my older sister and my brother play,” Monesmith said. “I really loved getting to watch the team aspect and watching them play, and it really just made me excited to be in a tennis family and I just couldn’t wait to play high school tennis for Jasper.”

Doubles partners Caroline Theil, left, and Kathleen Messmer high-fived between points during Saturday's Jasper Four-Team Invitational in Jasper. For more photos from the match, click here.

Sarah is different, though. Throughout high school, Lauren also was a member of the cheerleading team and joined the cheer squad at IU. Nick balanced tennis in the fall and golf in the spring. Growing up, Sarah also participated in cheerleading plus gymnastics and diving. Once high school started, though, tennis became her one and only.

“Sarah is probably — older siblings would argue — but she’s probably the most seasoned and played the most tennis,” Yarbrough said. “Lauren did too, but she also cheered and she cheers at IU and she split time, whereas this is Sarah’s main focus. She wants to play college tennis. From that standpoint, this has been her main thing.”

That, and a potential trip or two deep into the state tournament after she helped the Wildcats reach the Final Four last year. For that to happen, Monesmith’s won’t be the only transformation to wrap up.

Almost every Wildcat is in a different position this year, with most leapfrogging to different spots in Saturday’s three matches. Monesmith and Olivia Yarbrough were the only two Wildcats to play all three matches at the same spot, with Yarbrough winning two out of three matches at No. 1 doubles while coupling with three different partners (Suchi Bandaru, Caroline Theil and Jillian Seger). Mallory Ahlbrand also picked up three singles wins, with a pair coming at the No. 2 slot.

“We’re just finding our rhythm,” Monesmith said. “Almost every one is in new spots this year, so were all just adjusting as a team so we’re just finding our potential. Once we harness that and get into a rhythm, I think we can do really well this season.”

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