COLUMBIA — The Hickman tennis team isn’t worried about beating Rock Bridge on Thursday. They just want to keep it close.
The Kewpies (2-4) haven’t beaten Rock Bridge (2-0) in almost nine years. Since then, the Bruins have made seven-straight appearances in the state semifinals including last season's state title.
Hickman does have an advantage as far as players with varsity experience, which the Kewpies hope will help them give Rock Bridge a challenge.
“I think if the match is close, and we get into the match, I think our experienced players will have an advantage,” Hickman coach Andy Materer said. “We have to make sure that we work our way into the match and make it close.”
Hickman suffered a 7-2 defeat to Helias on Tuesday. Rock Bridge beat the same Crusaders 9-0 in their first dual of the season. Materer said Helias admitted they were intimidated when they played Rock Bridge. He hopes to get his team into the mindset that they can win matches.
“You don’t want to get blown out,” Materer said. “You want to go out there, and for your pride, you want to keep it close and give yourselves a chance. Rock Bridge has had a lot of pressure on them over the last couple of years. When we’ve been close with them, I can always see Rock Bridge getting really nervous because they expect to beat us.”
Senior Alex Turner has three years of varsity experience. He has seen the powerful teams Rock Bridge has produced and expects this season's team to be no different. He said the players on both teams know each, which could be a factor.
“We’ve grown up with a lot of the guys,” Turner said. “We’re about the same age. We’ve grown up playing tennis with some of them. It won’t be a complete surprise, but we’ll definitely have some interesting matches and some interesting opponents. It’s going to be a lot different than last year.”
The dual will take place at 4 p.m. at Cosmopolitan Park, the home court for the Kewpies. Turner said it is still more fun to play at home.
“Our courts are a little different than theirs,” Turner said. “There’s a little bit different atmosphere out here than around there. Sometimes, we’ll get some more Hickman supporters since it’s on our side of town.”
The rivalry doesn’t seem as intense in tennis as it is in football or basketball, but the players insist that the teams still bring their best games when they meet each other.
“Tennis is no different.,” Hickman senior John Prost said. “There’s still the rivalry. We’ve just got to go out there and play them hard.”
A lot of people will be watching Rock Bridge’s No. 1 singles player, freshman Ford Zitsch. Hickman’s No. 1 singles player, junior Ben Levin is also playing in his first season at No. 1. He said he knows how talented Zitsch is, but he will go into the match like he does any other.
“Ford Zitsch is a talented player,” Levin said. “He’s young, but he’s got a lot of potential, and I look forward to playing him. We have a chance to win some matches. Rock Bridge is going to be one of those state contender teams. We’re going to play hard and try our best.”
Although the Bruins are heavily favored, Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb said his team will not take the Kewpies lightly.
“We just want to go out there and respect the game and respect our opponents,” Loeb said. “It’s a rivalry either way. I like to keep it as a respected rivalry. Our guys need to respect the game, no matter what the expectations might be.”
Materer said he expects a battle on Thursday. He is more worried about having his players ready to play hard than he is about the final outcome of the dual.
“We just want to be able to be competitive with them and maybe sneak out a couple of wins at a couple of spots. Right now, the talent difference is too large.”