Jadden Ousley held up the 2019 sectional championship trophy in a way that exposed the bottom.
Scrawled on the bottom — carved, actually — were the names of Twin Lakes’ varsity tennis team. It’s tradition, noted Ousley — he was part of a 2017 sectional championship team that did the same thing.
It was nearly noon on Saturday, moments before the entire team showed up for a tow-hour practice. Several players asked the senior and No. 1 singles player “What are we doing for practice?” with the assumption Jennifer Ousley, their coach and Jadden’s mother, might have told him.
No dice: “I hope it’s not much,” Jadden said while softly hitting balls with Ryan Nickerson as others began to gear up for practice.
They gathered less than 24 hours after winning the Logansport Sectional because, well, it’s what has to be done when the Kokomo Regional begins four days later. Twin Lakes faced West Lafayette to open the regional Tuesday. The atmosphere was clearly relaxed — music blared from a speaker conencted to an iPhone during a laissez faire warmup session.
“Our players are in control of their destiny, and it’s been like that all season,” coach Ousley said. “We did a player-governed team this year as far as coaching and discipline. I preached mental toughness all season, and it carried over upon them.
“My team is just like I am: I like to play hard, I like to try my best at everything I do and I feel like they are similar to that.”
Reece Arthur found himself down 5-4 in the opening set against Parker Wilburn when coach Ousley approached him during a break between sets.
“I went up to him and said “‘You will win the next three games,’” she said, adding the instruction was to go to a lob game instead of the tactic he was using.
Arthur took the advice and rode it to 7-5, 6-3 win, replete with as many shouts of “Let’s go” and other exultations one has come to expect from an Arthur match.
“It was almost like I was out there playing — he took my words and was able to add the talent to it,” coach Ousley said. “It blows me away. It really does.”
Arthur laughed while recalling the encounter.
“That’s just how it works. She did that all year,” he said. “She would come up at the perfect time and say ‘You’re going to do this. You’re going to do that.’ And I did it.”
Arthur bested Wilburn, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 on Sept. 16 in a 3-2 win at Logansport — the last time these two teams faced off. Jadden Ousley won, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 against CJ Hallam on Sept. 16, then came back with a 6-3, 6-3 win Saturday. Arthur came off a couple minutes before Ousley, whose victory clinched the team victory and trophy.
“I was at (5-1), he was almost done — it was all kind of a blur,” Jadden said. “I heard Reece yelling and I saw him take his little headband thing off and shake the kid’s hand, and then I was like, ‘All right, I just have to win this game and it’s over.’
“It just kind of seemed fitting that I was the third win that clinched it after taking a year off, coming back and being a senior. I promised a sectional to the guys, and that’s what we got. We got it.”
The first win was from No. 1 doubles team of Clayton Bridwell and Carson Gutwein, who swept 6-4, 6-3 on Saturday — the same score they won by Sept. 16.
“Immediately,” Bridwell said of when the realization hit they’d won. “We were screaming. And then we got told to be quiet.”
Two adjectives to describe the Twin Lakes boys program, and its attitude. None of it is purported in a negative way — at times certain players have yelled at themselves for errors. Nearly all of the verbiage is directed inward, positive or not. And it has, at times, rankled others — other fansm other coaches, other players. It’s how this team of multi-sport athletes carries itself — and they know it gets to others.
“We use it to our advantage, get in their heads. Once we get in their heads, they start playing bad,” Bridwell said. “Then we just keep building up on that.”
Added Jadden, “It makes people made we’re not tennis players … we just like to win. We’re loud, we’re kind of funny and we have a lot of fun.”
The running joke is the team’s seven-player varsity roster is comprised of one and a half tennis players and five and a half athletes. Freshman Luke Deno, Jadden added, is “half athlete, half tennis player.” Nickerson and Deno are seen as the only true tennis players. Bridwell plays basketball as well, while Arthur and Carson Gutwein add baseball and basketball to their repetoire. Hayden Hubbard and Jadden Ousley play tennis, basketball and golf.
“Me and (Gutwein), we play tennis for the fun of it,” Bridwell said. “It’s a fun sport. We use our athleticism to help take advantage of our opponents.”
“You see Clayton Bridwell play the net (Friday) and there is not one person that would like to play doubles and see the way he moves at the net,” coach Ousley said. “Carson Gutwein, he’s improved so much over the last couple years. And that doubles team, they don’t have any fear.
“Not that they can’t lose — they just don’t go out with any fear.”
They — Bridwell and Gutwein, and the other flights — also went out with a strategy. After the 3-2 win against Logansport, coach Ousley gave them a homework assignment.
“‘Write down all your strong points: What works for you, as a team, as an individual,” she said. “So on a changeover if you get down on yourself or start doubting whether you can win, you pull out that piece of paper and visualize what you do best and try it Because you’re not going to think of it in the moment, unless it’s written down.”
Arthur noted it helped him, and it must have helped Nickerson and the doubles team of Deno and Hubbard. Nickerson lost 7-5, 6-0 on Sept. 16, then beat Noah Lange on Saturday, 6-3, 6-3. Deno and Hubbard lost 6-4, 7-6 (4) on Sept. 16, but won 7-6 (9), 3-6, 6-0 on Saturday to complete the sweep.
The collective response to the score was ‘Well, we expected to win’ whether it was a sweep or not. It is the latest chapter in a rivalry that, since the 2016, has favored the Indians by a 6-2 margin in dual matches, not counting Logansport Invitational contests.
“When you have a good team, you have a good team,” coach Ousley said. “And when you have a competitive team, they’re out to win and not give up until every single person wins. I feel like we worked really hard and got us to a level that — they decided they were going to go 5-0 (Saturday).”
According to Arthur, the best part is Saturday’s victory was the first sectional trophy for most of the roster.
“Having tennis be the first sectional (win) for most of us who are three-sport athletes makes it even more special,” he added. “Most of us wouldn’t call tennis our best sport, or favorite. It’s awesome.”