COLUMBIA – The Rock Bridge boys tennis team is showing its state championship form early this season.
Rock Bridge, which won last season's state title, had two duals against St. Louis teams on Saturday at Bethel Park. The Bruins beat Parkway Central 9-0 in the morning and defeated Parkway South by the same score in the afternoon to improve to 5-0 this season.
Parkway Central finished third in the state last year and is a team that Rock Bridge could see in the state championship finals this year. There were four match tiebreakers in the dual against the Colts, and Rock Bridge won all of them giving Parkway Central their first loss of the season.
Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb said the dual was close.
“That was far from a 9-0 win,” Loeb said. “It was as close as it can get. I was very impressed that we won four out of four match tiebreakers. I thought we competed well.”
In the Class 2 state tournament this year, the teams will play doubles first, followed by singles. Usually teams play singles matches first, but they switched it up to give the duals a state tournament feel.
“I thought we played a great dual meet,” Loeb said. “It was intense. All three doubles matches were closely contested. We found a way to win all of them. To open up a 3-0 lead was a big boost.”
No. 1 doubles player junior Blake Buchert, who won the state championship for doubles with his partner Aaron Skinner last year, said he prefers to play doubles first.
“Me and Skinner have always been a good doubles team,” Buchert said. “For me and him, it’s more fun to get doubles first, so we can get momentum for the singles. I definitely think it helped us today.”
Buchert said the the Bruins enjoy playing tougher competition. He said it gets them ready for what they will be facing when they go to the state tournament.
“It’s definitely fun when we bring in schools from St. Louis,” Buchert said. “Playing tough competition like that, it’s definitely a lot more fun. We’re definitely a very solid, very deep team. Sometimes we don’t get quite as much competition. I think everyone, one through six, had tough matches today.”
If the Bruins see Parkway Central again, it wouldn’t be until the finals of the Class 2 state championship. No public high school team has repeated as state champions since McCluer did it in 1969.
“It would be special to be able to do something like that,” Loeb said, "but we have so much ahead of ourselves before we can really seriously start thinking about that."
In matches at Cosmopolitan Park, Hickman defeated Parkway South 5-4, but lost to Parkway Central 9-0. The Kewpies are 3-6 on the year.
Hickman coach Andy Materer said that when the Kewpes play such tough competition early in the season it gives them a feel for what they need to do to improve.
“There’s two ways to think about it,” Materer said. “We could schedule some weak teams and try to build our record up, or you can play the good teams. These teams come to town to play Rock Bridge. You want to play the best competition you can so you know what you have to do. We’re starting to build a culture of kids who are going to compete and play tennis year round. They get to see what the top schools in state are doing.”
Rock Bridge and Hickman play next on Monday. The Bruins will travel to Troy, Ill. to compete in the Missouri-Illinois Challenge and the Kewpies will host Jefferson City at Cosmopolitan Park.