COLUMBIA — Last season, most high school tennis teams didn’t know what to expect when they played Rock Bridge’s doubles team of Aaron Skinner and Blake Buchert. After Skinner and Buchert won the doubles state championship last year, their opponents now know they’re in for elite competition.
Skinner and Buchert shocked a lot of people when they defeated former teammates Jay Kinderknecht and Eemaun Latifi in the Class 2 state doubles championship last season. Kinderknecht and Latifi were favored to win, and it was somewhat of a surprise that Buchert and Skinner even made it to the finals.
In the finals, Buchert and Skinner lost the the first set 6-2. They turned it on in the second set though and came up with a 7-6 victory to send the match to a third set. Buchert and Skinner dominated the third set, winning 6-1.
What makes this so amazing is Buchert and Skinner did not start the season playing together. Before their state title run, Buchert and Skinner had only played together for a couple of months.
Buchert started last season playing with then-freshman Jimmy Hunter and then-freshman Skinner played with the now graduated Aron Franck. Buchert, who was a sophomore last year, said he didn’t know at first why coach Ben Loeb paired him and Skinner together.
“It was pretty random,” Buchert said. “Coach wanted me to lead Jimmy into it, but I ended up leading Skinner into it. Aaron and Aron were a couple of goofballs, and he wanted to change things up. Me and Skinner play well together.”
Buchert, now a junior, said even though it came as a surprise, being paired with Skinner, now a sophomore, makes sense. They communicate well together on the court and seem to have a way of knowing where the other player will be. After winning a championship, it was no surprise Loeb kept the combination together as his No. 1 doubles team.
“We’re both really smart players,” Buchert said. “We don’t make a lot of mistakes. We’re able to move at the net. Other teams can get kind of intimidated and don’t really know what to think because they don’t know where we’ll be.”
Loeb said he was surprised that Skinner and Buchert defeated his other team, but he knew when he paired them together that they had the potential to be great.
“I think Aaron Skinner has the best hands in high school tennis in the state,” Loeb said. “The guy is unbelievable with what he can do with a ball. I think Blake keeps a lot of balls in play, that he sets it up where if he doesn’t put it away, then Aaron’s going to put in a place where the other team is going to have a hard time.”
Loeb said Skinner and Buchert will not beat teams by overpowering them, but they know how to outplay their opponents and make them play their game.
Skinner said he and Buchert keep each other balanced. He is able to keep the mood light and Buchert helps to keep them serious when the game is on the line.
“I think the way we played together and our support for each other has made us good,” Skinner said. “Positive words and trying to stay up on each other instead of getting down.”
Skinner and Buchert are not best friends off the court. They don’t hang out on the weekends, and they don’t eat lunch together every day.
“Blake gives me rides to school and rides to tennis, and that’s about it,” Skinner said. “In general, it’s better to have a real close relationship with a person. It’s worked for us. It helps us stay focused.”
Buchert said that he being a junior and Skinner being a sophomore does not allow them to interact much during school.
“We’re pretty distant,” Buchert said. “More distant than you would think. Once you get on the tennis court, you have to focus in on that, and that’s something we’re very good at. We come together on the tennis court better than any other team.”