Youngsters growing up fast for Cats, Jeeps tennisOctober 4, 2017
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
JASPER — For Jasper sophomore tennis player Mitch Kluemper, there are several positives to being teamed up with a senior doubles partner.
But out of all the information Andrew Hochgesang has shared with him, one tidbit sticks out above the others — don’t embarrass yourself.
“One thing he told me right away was don’t be obnoxious, even if you think you should be,” Kluemper said with a laugh. “You have to be able to keep a cool attitude at all times and never let anything really get to you.”
Kluemper didn’t have much to get upset about Tuesday as he and Hochgesang sprinted their way to a 6-0, 6-0 victory as Jasper ousted Vincennes Lincoln 5-0 in the semifinals of the Jasper Regional.
The Wildcats (16-3) will host the Northeast Dubois Jeeps (19-0), who are fresh off a 5-0 semifinal defeat of North Daviess on Tuesday, in the regional championship match today at 5:30 p.m. at Jasper.
As a first-year varsity player, Kluemper said there were several moments this season where he felt himself get frustrated and let his emotions get in the way. It was at the Center Grove Classic against the Trojans on Sept. 22 where he realized that he needed to get it under control.
“It was the second time when we played them, and I just really wanted to prove to myself that I could beat them,” Kluemper said. “I’ve realized though that it makes the other person you’re playing with look immature, so I’ve tried to improve on that.”
Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough looks for certain characteristics in his doubles players, and Kluemper checked off basically all of the qualifications.
“Doubles guys have to be gritty and traditionally be risk-takers and go for difficult shots more often. They also have to be strong at serve and serve return as well as volleying,” Yarbrough said. “I think Mitch might just be the best returner that we have on the team this year. That doesn’t mean he’s hitting winners every single time or knocking guys off their feet with his returns, but he’s putting balls back in play, and from a doubles standpoint, that’s what you want — someone who gives you a good chance.”
Kluemper, who started the season playing No. 1 doubles on the junior varsity team, joins freshman Bennett Schmitt as the only first-year varsity members on the Cats’ regional roster. While Kluemper got to see some JV action before being thrown into varsity play, Schmitt dove in to the top level head-first.
For some, that could be cause for concern. But for Schmitt, it was what he expected.
“I knew I had the potential to be on varsity, but I also knew it wasn’t going to be a guarantee,” Schmitt said. “I knew that even though I’m a freshman, I can still hang with these guys, and as the season went on I fully realized that was true.”
Schmitt, who has played No. 3 singles for the entirety of the season outside a couple of matches, was the first Wildcat to finish his individual match Tuesday with a 6-0, 6-0 victory.
Yarbrough said Schmitt is what he calls a “lifer” — someone who has played in the Jasper system from a young age with youth tennis programs. Yarbrough has been able to watch Schmitt grow from a tennis standpoint as a result.
While Schmitt said he’s definitely had some nerve-wracking moments early in the season and at his first-ever sectional match last Wednesday, overall he feels his confidence has grown with every varsity match he’s played.
“At the beginning of the season I felt that I was just playing not to lose, but now I’m going out there playing to win,” Schmitt said. “I think that confidence comes with playing against good competition and even suffering some losses and figuring how you’re going to learn from them.”
The Cats aren’t the only team reaping the benefits of having a first-time varsity player — two, in Jasper’s case — on their regional roster.
Lane Knies, who came away with a 6-1, 6-0 victory at No. 3 singles for Northeast Dubois against North Daviess, took the position for good after some strong play against JV competition, but also because of the positive energy he provides.
“I really like the way he’s playing right now. I know it can be tough for a freshman to get thrown into the varsity lineup with high expectations,” Jeep coach Dwayne Knies said. “He’s been able to always keep a positive attitude and improve immensely as the season has gone on, especially after playing against some tough players.”
At the beginning of the season, if you would’ve told Lane Knies that he’d be playing against teams such as Loogootee and Jasper as a freshman in sectional and regional (action), he said he wouldn’t have believed you.
But now that it’s a reality, Knies has taken advantage of the opportunities presented to him — mostly through lessons he learned while playing at the JV level.
“The biggest difference between the two levels is just the competition. Guys are much stronger, faster and it seems like they get to almost every ball,” Knies said. “I’ve just learned that I have to go out there and try my hardest every point. Once the shots start falling, I definitely start to feel a little more confident.”
But whether it’s playing singles or doubles, or going straight to varsity or spending a stint in JV first, the first-time varsity players from Jasper and Northeast Dubois enjoy playing tennis for the same reason — camaraderie with their fellow teammates.
“Having my teammates around cheering for me and the team is the best feeling,” Knies said. “Even if I win, it’s not as fun unless the entire team gets a win, and that’s what we had all year.”
“Being able to play with some of the people you play with is the best part of tennis,” Kluemper added. “Tennis wouldn’t be tennis if you didn’t have fun people to play with.”
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