Wildcats count on cache of veterans

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper’s girls tennis team reached the state finals for the 11th time in program history last season with No. 2 doubles player Brooke Lueken, left, helping lead the charge. Lueken, a junior, returns to a team that also welcomes back four senior veterans.

Herald Sports Editor

Jasper girls tennis coach Scott Yarbrough couldn’t tell you a precise number. Even so, the approximation is impressive.

When Yarbrough tallies in his head the individual records of seniors Abby Rogers, Ashley Rogers, Elizabeth Theil and MeKenzie Hilsmeyer throughout their JV and varsity careers over the last three years, he arrives somewhere around 250 victories. And many of those double as quality wins, to boot.

Last spring, that quartet helped blaze the trail to Jasper’s 11th state finals appearance, which preceded the power grab of the program’s 25th sectional, 11th regional and seventh semistate crowns. Suffice it to say, the artillery is in place for the Wildcats to continue appending to those hefty numbers, as five varsity veterans return overall.

“We have some girls who have done a lot of damage,” said Yarbrough, entering his third season leading the girls program.

“Some years you’ve got kids that haven’t been around and haven’t been very seasoned. That would not be the case here. We’ve got a lot of girls with a lot of matches under their belt. We expect those seniors to lead the way.”

Ashley Rogers assembled an 18-10 record last year at No. 1 singles against one of the state’s most rigorous schedules. Yarbrough said his lineup is far from settled but said Rogers has again perched herself atop the team’s preseason challenge ladder.

The big question: Will Ashley Rogers and Theil remain linked as the No. 1 doubles duo? As sophomores, they steamed to a state runner-up finish in the individual doubles tournament. They repeated the run to the finals last spring, finishing fourth.

“Common sense would probably keep those two together at 1 doubles,” Yarbrough said of the pair, which has won 50 of its 56 matches over the last two seasons. “But we’ve got some other girls.”

Despite coming off knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear from basketball season, junior Brooke Lueken has looked impressive so far, Yarbrough said of his returning No. 2 doubles player.
“She is a big part of what we do in doubles,” he said. “She brings a lot of energy and personality, which is good to have with 2 doubles.”

The Cats also bring back Hilsmeyer, who finished 23-7 a year ago at No. 3 singles but could also play her way into a doubles position. Freshman Maria Lueken, Brooke’s sister, has jumped in and established herself at No. 2 in the challenge ladder. Four more Cats are angling to grab one of the varsity vacancies: junior Kendra Seger and sophomores Elisabeth Ahlbrand, Julia Ariens and Anna Flick.

After the exodus of five seniors from last year’s squad, Larry Kieffner acknowledges “we’re pretty well starting over.”

But the veteran Raider coach has dealt with that before and said that before. And more times than not, he’s able to craft a team that remains in the upper reaches of the Pocket Athletic Conference.

And though Kieffner’s still scratching his head about who will form the rest of his lineup, he feels settled about who will be at the top: senior Lynnette Whitsitt and junior Alexandra Herron, the respective No. 2 and 3 players from a sturdy singles lineup on last year’s team that finished 12-4.
“I think they should do quite well,” Kieffner said of Whitsitt and Herron. “And then I’ve got to find another singles player.”

Early on, the top candidate there is sophomore Jocelyn Sermersheim. In the quest to replace both doubles squads, Kieffner said senior Natalie Schneider has looked strong in doubles so far. Senior Heather Underhill and juniors Cheyenne Layton and Joanna Hildebranski are also vying for positions.

Also in consideration are Taylor Miles, Maddie Neu and Megan Diekhoff, three members of a sophomore group with potential as Kieffner is still sorting through a passel of 24 players.

“The seniors and the juniors will probably comprise a lot of my team at the beginning, and then I’ll be able to get some of these sophomores a chance to play,” Kieffner said. “I had some nice freshmen last year and I didn’t get a chance to play them on varsity. Some of those sophomores are looking pretty good.”

Even if the diabolical cold and wet weather hadn’t muddied the preseason, the Rangers still would have logged plenty of mileage on their running shoes.

That’s been a main thrust for first-year coach Emily Opell. With four players back from a team that finished 12-4 and reached the sectional final, Opell knows she’s got players who know what to do with the racket.

She simply wants her girls to be in optimum position once they get there.

“(We’re) really just trying to get in shape and get around quickly,” Opell said. “I always tell the girls, ”˜I don’t want you to lose because you can’t get there fast enough. I want you to get to the ball and play the point out.’”

Junior Amie Weyer completed her share of that in last year’s sectional final, when she stretched  Jasper’s MeKenzie Hilsmeyer to three sets. Weyer went 14-2 in singles last year and now makes the leap to No. 1, with senior Rachel Hentrup (No. 2) and junior Maddison Beckman (No. 3) likely to round out the singles group.

Opell is still pondering the doubles groupings, which likely will include senior Kelly Weyer and juniors Jordan Buechler and Kereston Hochgesang plus German exchange student Mareike Zeidler.

“They understand what’s going on, they understand the structure and the rules,” said Opell, whose team’s initial lineup will have two returning varsity players in singles and two in doubles. “I know different girls are playing different positions, so that’ll be an adjustment for some of them that played doubles last year and will not be playing singles. But it really does help having a lot of upperclassmen and returning players.”

Blue Chip Conference champions a year ago, the Jeeps rumbled to a 13-3 record — though two of those setbacks came to Paoli, including one in the sectional final.

The Rams are retooling after graduating the bulk of their lineup, leaving Northeast Dubois with an opening to swipe the program’s first sectional since 1989. Still, the Jeeps realize the challenge of that undertaking, even as they return everyone except graduated No. 1 singles player Jasmine Riecker.

“(Paoli’s coach has) had the girls playing in the summer, and I’m sure Paoli will be well-prepared to defend. It’ll be a very competitive sectional,” Jeep coach Tina Terwiske said. “Loogootee always has a very good program, Barr-Reeve took us to 3-2 last year. ... All four schools over there see it as an option for a win.”

The heir apparent at No. 1 singles is likely Michaela Stemle, a senior who didn’t lose at No. 2 singles last spring after she was shifted there from doubles early in the season. Stemle is in her fourth varsity season, and a capable crop of returning juniors should also offer a lift.

Talia Terwiske played mostly singles last season but is still bugged by a shoulder injury; Terwiske could float to doubles, where classmates Jennifer Schepers, Kendra Schroering and Andrea Smock have all gathered experience. Sophomore Jenna Stemle is also a returning doubles performer, and German exchange student Lena Kleinhage is likely to complete the varsity seven.

“With that group of juniors, we’re real solid top to bottom,” Tina Terwiske said. “We’ve got a lot of depth and should get a lot of wins with just our balance and consistency.”

Patriot coach Brian Oxley has a problem. Actually, he may not.

In preseason challenge matches, his Nos. 2 and 3 singles players and top JV girl all went to three sets when they played. So, too, did his two varsity doubles teams.

It’s left Oxley with some ambiguity about who will fit best where, but he can’t deny the beauty of balance.

“Everybody seems to be about in the same place, which can be a positive and can be a negative,” Oxley said. “But I think it’s going to be a good thing being that we’re a younger team, and these sophomores are going to get some experience.”

Experience is interspersed in both sectors of the team, with senior returnees Allison Baron at No. 2 singles and Megan Boehm at the top doubles flight. Baron could go back and forth in the lineup at No. 1 singles with Austrian exchange student Meli Ochs, while senior Kailee Taylor likely will be Boehm’s new doubles buddy.

From the sophomore group, Meridith Balbach will start at No. 3 singles with Hannah Turner and Alexis Rube merging at No. 2 doubles. Oxley credited his sophomores with their initiative for playing over the winter and spending time on their own polishing their game. In turn, the third-year coach said there’s no reason why the Patriots can’t match or improve upon the 8-9 mark they accrued last season even as they’ll rely on five varsity newcomers.

“I have higher hopes this year. I think we’re improved a lot since last year,” Oxley said. “We lost quite a bit, but I think we’re still improved as a team and as a program.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com