COLUMBIA — The Rock Bridge High School girls tennis team brought the hammer, but the first court brought the fireworks.
The fifth time was a charm for junior Kelsey Kindernecht, who played first singles for Rock Bridge on Monday in its dual against Hickman. After going 0-4 against Kewpies senior Dina Kaissi last season at first singles, Kindnecht defeated Kaissi 3-6, 6-3, (10-2) Monday to lead the Bruins past the Kewpies 9-0.
“I knew I could do it,” Kindernecht said.
In what Bruins assistant coach Bob Reys described as a “dogfight,” Kindernecht dropped five games in a row to lose the first set but came back to win the match.
“It was a great match,” said Rock Bridge head coach Ben Loeb. “ ... to come back and win is a phenomenal accomplishment for her.”
“We were lucky today,” Hickman coach Andy Materer said, “We got to see one of the best matchups in the state, right here in Columbia, with both girls being in the top eight (in the state).”
The match was decided by a tiebreaker played to 10 after Kaissi and Kindernecht split the first two sets, making home court advantage that much more valuable for Kindernecht, who was playing in front of more than 50 Rock Bridge fans.
“It was hard,” Kaissi said. “It affected me mentally, and I played tentatively. I’m supposed to win my match, but it helps you get tougher.”
Materer said he wished the circumstances were different.
“These are the occasions where I don’t like the match tiebreakers,” Materer said. “It doesn’t necessarily show you who the better player is, but relies a little more on luck. Being away put a little more pressure on Dina, but Kelsey did a great job handling the pressure.”
Kindernecht said nothing was easy about the match.
“She’s (Kaissi) is a really consistent player,” Kindernecht said. “She keeps the ball in play and never quits on the point. I just really wanted it.”
Loeb agreed about how well Kaissi plays.
“Dina is an outstanding tennis player,” Loeb said. “She is going to have a great season, and be a factor in the state tournament, I’m saying that now. This match doesn’t diminish her achievements, but I do think that it shows Kelsey’s improvements. She rose to the occasion.”
Reys said he thinks both players benefited from the match.
“Playing each other this early in the season will help them to gauge where they want to be later in the season,” Reys said. “They will be playing each other again when we go to Hickman later in the season, and they’ll probably end up playing each other in the district tournament.”
Materer said, “It’s a tough loss, but Kelsey was going to beat her eventually. Better earlier in the season.”
Kaissi said, “She played really well, but it hurts. I didn’t play my game. She was really consistent and attacked my short balls. I’m just glad I lost now, and not in the district tournament. I’m going there to defend my title.”