COLUMBIA — The Rock Bridge boys tennis team hasn’t faced many tough challenges this season, but this weekend will make up for that.
The Bruins are hosting Kirkwood, a traditional powerhouse that beat the Bruins for 3rd place last season, at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and Blue Valley North of Overland Park, Kan., at approximately 1:30 p.m. Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb says Blue Valley North has one of the best teams in the country.
“They could bring a USTA Missouri Valley all-star cast,” Loeb said referring to the regional rankings for junior tennis players. “If there were national high school rankings for tennis, they’d be there.”
Rock Bridge’s only blemish this season came when they finished second place in the Tournament of Champions in St. Louis last weekend. Rockhurst, which has won every MSHSAA state title since 1996 except for 2006, took the title. When the Hawklets faced Blue Valley North, they were beaten soundly, 7-2.
However, most of the buzz about this Blue Valley North team is about freshman Jack Sock. Sock won the 16 and under division of the prestigious USTA Easter Bowl tournament that is the USTA’s junior spring national championship. It’s a tournament that has had Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Andy Roddick compete in it. Sock even got featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd section in the April 28 issue.
Rock Bridge senior Jay Kinderknecht could be in line to face Sock, but says he is looking forward to the challenge of facing a top player no matter who it is.
“It’s always fun to play those top guys. It forces you to step up,” Kinderknecht said. “You can’t leave balls short.”
Just talking about the matchup with the Mustangs gets Loeb excited.
“They are as tough of a team as we may have seen in Columbia in several years, if not ever,” Loeb said. “It could be a great learning experience for our team.”
Kinderknecht agreed saying they are, “One of the top teams in the midwest, if not the country.”
While the dual with Blue Valley North dual might be the bigger spectacle, the dual with Kirkwood has implications on the state tournament.
“I certainly think we can make the final four and we would see Kirkwood in the semis,” sophomore Blake Buchert said.
Loeb said the Bruins have defeated Kirkwood at this event, called the North Central Missouri Invitational, the past two years, but have lost to them in the state tournament so he doesn’t want to put too much emphasis on the result. The format will be slightly different than a normal dual. Instead of playing six singles matches and three doubles, the teams will play five doubles matches.
“I’m sure it will be close either way,” Kinderknecht said of the Kirkwood dual.