Wildcats well-informed for Take 2 with St. JoeJune 1, 2017
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Who wants to wait five days? Sarah Monesmith didn’t, so she performed her own audit of the matchups.
It’s what you’ve got to do when you’re up against a foe that’s more than five hours away, as Friday’s opening match of the girls tennis state finals will have No. 9 Jasper and No. 7 South Bend St. Joseph converging at Carmel for the right to reach the Final Four the following day. The day after winning the semistate over the weekend, the curiosity gnawed at Monesmith, so the Jasper junior located St. Joe’s lineup, performed a little more Internet sleuthing about player rankings and reached a couple conclusions.
The bad news? Monesmith faces one of the steeper tests in her No. 1 singles affair. The good news? She likes where the Wildcats (17-4) stand in others in the rematch with St. Joe (23-1) from last year’s state semifinal match won 4-1 by the Indians.
“I personally did some digging and found their lineup in a paper article, and we did some research, and I think our harder matches will definitely be at 1 singles and 1 doubles,” Monesmith said, “but we’re feeling a little bit more confident in 2 and 3 singles and 2 doubles with the matchups.”
As with other sports and especially on the weighty platform of the state finals, the Wildcats recognize how matchups matter. It explains how the Wildcat boys team was able to knock off Bloomington North in the 2015 semistate — the Cougars wielded more talented top to bottom, but Jasper’s strengths overlapped with the relatively softer spots in Bloomington North’s lineup.
That’s also where lineup finagling also becomes a matter of science and strategy, and to an extent, gamesmanship as long as it’s of the legal variety.
One of the quirks of Indiana’s state tennis tourney is that the regional, semistate and state finals brackets are drawn before the regular season even begins, so with that in mind, teams can tailor their lineups to match up best against opponents they expect they’ll encounter along the way.
Jasper tweaked its boys lineup a week before the 2015 postseason to better match up against Bloomington North, and the alteration paid. Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough figures Center Grove’s girls did something similar when they shifted their No. 1 singles standout to No. 1 doubles to form the more optimal lineup to beat Providence in the other quarterfinal battle that will run concurrently to Jasper-St. Joe in the first round Friday at Carmel. Yarbrough has even seen a team reposition its best singles player to No. 2 doubles.
“You see teams that will do that,” Yarbrough said. “It’s legal, as long as your 1’s better than your 2, your 2’s better than your 3 (in singles), and your 1 doubles is better than your 2 doubles.”
And just like a sharply executed 2-3 zone in basketball has the power to ruffle a team equipped with more height and talent, the coaching and strategy of doubles can be the wild card when it comes to those matches. As opposed to the mano-y-mano realm of singles where the better player usually wins, “in doubles, you can be a little bit more lopsided (in terms of lesser talent) and knock off teams,” Yarbrough said. He’s witnessed it firsthand before, such as when Ashley Rogers and Elizabeth Theil upended a talent-rich Indianapolis Cathedral duo in the state finals six years ago.
The challenge now awaits Theil’s sister, Caroline, who currently inhabits the No. 1 doubles post alongside Olivia Yarbrough, as St. Joe boasts two doubles duos with 15-0 records.
“Liv and I both know going into this that the teams that we face at 1 doubles are definitely going to be harder than the teams that we’ve faced all season. And I think we’re prepared for that, more mentally than anything,” Theil said. “Really, our physicality is as good as it’s going to get, so the mentality on the court is definitely what’s going to win the matches, I think. We know the 1 doubles teams are going to serve and going to rip balls at us, and it’s just who can put ’em away first or who can get in the opponent’s head first, and just kind of get the match going.”
This won’t be new to a host of current Cats, as Monesmith, Yarbrough, Mallory Ahlbrand and Jillian Seger all follow older siblings who’ve been in the tennis state finals before. Ditto for Theil, who’s made it 3-for-3 with siblings who’ve made it to state, first with Elizabeth and then Grant as the right fielder with the baseball team.
“It’s exciting. I think my whole family’s been pretty excited. I’ve been waiting my turn to make it to state, and now that I finally get the chance, everyone’s been very supportive,” Caroline said. “Both Elizabeth and Grant have been trying to hype me up and give me advice, and texting me back and forth. I know they won’t be able to make it, but I know that I have their support and everything. It’s a good feeling.”
A third consecutive tennis finals venture is also the opportunity to cash in on lessons learned. Monesmith returned home motivated after being swept by Carmel in the 2015 finals, so she got to work on weaknesses adding more consistency to her serve and backhand. When Monesmith came up just short in a three-set defeat last year to St. Joe, it illuminated the need for serenity in times of anxiety.
More of those moments could arrive Friday. In the interim, the Cats are reveling in an achievement that’s just as enchanting as it’d been the two years prior.
“It’s honestly just as exciting as going there for the first time,” Monesmith said. “Getting there as a team is always our goal, and we’ve been so fortunate to reach it every single year, and it’s like our hard work pays off every time. It’s so awesome, and it just feels like going up there for the first time. Everyone’s super excited.”
Added Scott Yarbrough: “I like our team. I love our lineup, I like the way we’re playing, we’ve got good energy. They’re ready to go."
Wildcats vs. Indians
The individual matchups for Friday’s first-round state finals matchup between No. 9 Jasper (17-4) and No. 7 South Bend St. Joseph (23-1):
• No. 1 singles — Sarah Monesmith, Jasper (20-7) vs. Maddie Yergler, St. Joe (25-1)
• No. 2 singles — Suchi Bandaru, Jasper (20-4) vs. Natalie Sill, St. Joe (15-5)
• No. 3 singles — Mallory Ahlbrand, Jasper (25-2) vs. Isabel Neal, St. Joe (11-4)
• No. 1 doubles — Olivia Yarbrough/Caroline Theil, Jasper (13-2) vs. Talle Corrigan/Kayla Graham, St. Joe (15-0)
• No. 2 doubles — Jillian Seger/Kathleen Messmer, Jasper (13-2) vs. Nicole Pascual/Kathryn Borders, St. Joe (15-0)
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