JASPER — It’s a deep team Jasper is fielding this spring, with many players back from last year’s state semifinals girls tennis team, but Wildcats coach Scott Yarbrough has let it be known that it doesn’t matter what a player did the season before, nor does it matter what grade they’re in — they still have to earn their position in the lineup.
That’s where Harper Wigand comes in. The freshman was not on the squad last year, and while many who were are back in the lineup this year, Wigand leapfrogged everybody to claim the No. 1 singles spot for a Jasper team ranked fifth in the first state poll released this week.
“I was just really happy and excited that all my hard work had paid off,” Wigand said.
She recalls playing tennis for “as long as I can remember, probably since I was three.”
“She is a year-round, doesn’t put the racket down tennis player,” Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough told The Herald that while Wigand has had some close sets, she hasn’t lost a challenge match yet. Wigand spends a lot of time in practice working on serves, groundstrokes and her moving.
In this No. 1 singles position, she is counted on trying to help bring the program a 32nd straight sectional championship and return to state once again.
So, how much pressure is there being a freshman in that spot?
“I haven’t really thought about it that much,” she said. “I just go out and play my tennis and show what I can do.”
“I have not set any personal goals for Harper,” he said. “Because I think, the fact that she is playing one on the fifth-ranked team in the state, on one of the best programs in the state of Indiana is probably enough pressure for her. What we want to do is make her as comfortable as we can between now and the end of the season, and we’ll do that through playing really good competition.”
At 2-1 on the young season, Wigand saw good competition in her very first match of the year when she dropped a 6-0, 6-0 match in the April 4 season opener. But that was to Evansville Memorial’s Ellie Myers, who is set to continue her tennis career at the University of Kentucky, and she’s won both of her matches since then.
“I think she was thrown into the fire match one, and I think these last few matches, Harper’s been the better player, and I think she’s handled it well, the scores have represented that,” Yarbrough said on Tuesday. “I think the girl last night from Reitz (senior Katee Wiley) did some things differently than the other two did, and I thought Harper made some nice adjustments in her game slowing down a little bit.
“I think the one thing that you can do at a young age in tennis is your mind speeds up too fast,” he added. “She just need to take a step back sometimes and slow down, and when I say slow down — her thinking. ‘Okay, let’s be a little more patient, let’s not try to kill the first ball that comes through.’ It’s kind of like that 3-point shooter — you get that first open look, maybe it’s not the best open look. Maybe you pass that one up and take the third one instead of the first one.”
Wigand has different influences she has drawn from as she navigates through the Jasper tennis program. One of them is her sister Ally, a junior who has played in both the No. 2 and No. 3 singles spots for Jasper in 2022.
“I don’t really care that she’s younger than me and playing above me,” Ally said. “It’s good for her to be able to take that position because she’s earned it.”
Harper remembers attending Jasper tennis matches when she was younger, looking up to different players and wanting to be them, which she tries to be every day she’s on the court.
One name she mentioned from the past is Sarah Monesmith, a 2018 graduate who has gone on to continue her tennis career at Butler University.
When it comes to his freshman No. 1 singles player and this former standout who’s gone on to play at the NCAA Division I level, Yarbrough sees some parallels.
“From the love of the sport and the time they put in and the commitment, I would say it’s right on,” Yarbrough said. “The one thing that I never sensed in Sarah in all the years I coached her was that she didn’t want to be on the tennis court or didn’t want to be traveling to bigger cities or five-six-seven hours away or going here or going there — she wanted to take lessons. And I’ve not sensed that in Harper yet, either. So, there’s a lot of similarities there.”
Scott thinks after Harper saw Myers that she wants to get to that level, but staying healthy will be key, and maybe she’ll be playing in another spot a year from now.
But for now, like generations of players before her, she’s trying to help the Wildcats take care of business in 2022, which is scheduled to continue today at Evansville Central.
“More than anything else, we want her to be experienced,” he said. “...She’ll get to play roughly 22 matches before the sectional starts, and of those 22, probably 15 or 16 will be really, really good matches.”
“I want to make it to state,” Harper said. “I think as a team, we have a really good chance if we keep working hard like we have been.”