COLUMBIA — The Rock Bridge boys tennis team travels Thursday to Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield, Mo., looking to repeat as state champions. The Bruins play Rockhurst in the state semifinals in a rematch of last year's Class 2 championship match.
A state title isn’t the only thing at stake. The Bruins’ winning streak of 50 consecutive dual matches, dating back to last year’s state title run, will also be tested.
“Throughout the season, we strive to continue to get better, take pride in working hard and reaching our potential,” Bruins coach Ben Loeb said. “However, we keep in mind we got a great thing going for a second year in a row and a chance to do something special.”
Rock Bridge could become the first public school team in 40 years to defend a boys tennis title and the first public team ever to repeat in the True Team Era, according to Loeb. The True Team Era, implemented in 1987, expanded the number of matches to six singles and three doubles matches.
“Everyone’s aware of their quest to defend their title,” Rock Bridge principal Kathy Ritter said. “The strong tennis tradition creates a buzz and excitement that becomes infectious. The entire school gets wrapped around it.”
Rock Bridge administrators were quick to explain the success of the tennis program.
“A huge part is coach Ben Loeb,” Jennifer Mast, the Rock Bridge athletic director, said. “He has such a passion for coaching and he just gets it done.”
Loeb said he first realized his squad’s potential early in the year. Despite losing vital parts of last year’s title team to graduation, the Bruins showed their competitiveness early in a match against Parkway Central, which competes in Thursday's other semifinal. The match featured many close games, with Rock Bridge winning each.
“That match proved to me that we had guys that liked to compete and embrace the challenge of competing. It proved our guys have what it takes to perform in a competitive environment,” Loeb said.
Advancing to the Final Four for the eighth straight time, Rock Bridge looks to deepen its tennis tradition against Rockhurst. Rockhurt’s only tennis losses in the past 13 years have been to Rock Bridge. Kirkwood plays Parkway Central in the other semifinal match.
“It goes without saying Rockhurst is a contender every year. When we played Kirkwood about two weeks ago, they showed us a lot. They liked to compete just as much as we do,” Loeb said.
A simple motto has guided the Bruins’ success throughout the year and will continue to do so Thursday: Winning is more fun than losing.
“Winning is a lot more fun than losing — it creates a great sense of accomplishment,” Loeb said. “Whatever happens Thursday, our guys have a lot to be proud of with what we’ve accomplished this season. Nonetheless, we have a strong preference to enjoy the feel of victory than the agony of defeat.”