COLUMBIA — Humble.
That’s the word Rock Bridge tennis coach Ben Loeb uses to describe player Jimmy Hunter.
The Rock Bridge tennis team defeated Parkway South and 2009 state quarterfinalist Parkway Central on Saturday in St. Louis.
The Bruins Ford Zitsch outlasted the Colts' Michael Davis 7-5, 6-3 at No. 1 singles and Zitsch and teammate Jimmy Hunter pulled through at No. 1 doubles against Davis and Ash Sampath 4-6, 7-6(4) (10-8). Parkway Central, which lost to the Bruins in last year's third-place state competition, prevailed at No. 2 singles and No. 3 doubles, but Rock Bridge still earned a 7-2 victory.
"It was a very close match," Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb said. "They could have won if some more things went their way."
After beating Parkway Central, Rock Bridge swept Parkway South 9-0 to improve to 6-0 this season.
“My favorite thing about him is how respectful he is as a person,” Loeb said. “Whenever you work with a kid that’s respectful and wants to get better, it makes the job easy.”
After a few minutes with Hunter, it’s easy to see what Loeb is talking about. The 6-foot-2 Bruins junior is soft-spoken and polite, yet speaks with a quiet confidence.
In his third season on the team, Hunter has proven himself as an upperclassman and a leader for Rock Bridge. He has competed in doubles since his freshman year, when he helped the Bruins capture a state title. He also plays singles.
On Thursday, Hunter and teammate Blake Buchert won their doubles match 8-1 against Hickman. Hunter also won his singles match against Hickman's Ben Levin 6-2, 6-3. Rock Bridge won the match 9-0 and added to its long win streak against the Kewpies, who last beat the Bruins in 2000.
Between points during the match, Hunter and Buchert exchange high fives and words of encouragement. Hunter plays aggressively, scanning the court as Buchert serves and constantly holds an athletic stance as he awaits a return across the net. Although Loeb describes Hunter’s playing style as an “aggressive baseliner who ends points,” Hunter says it varies with each opponent.
“A lot of it is attacking and trying to rally some points, but it depends,” he said.
Watching Hunter move around the tennis court is like watching a fish in water — he’s in his element and enjoys every minute of it. His interest in the sport began at the age of 10. As he played more and more, his love for tennis grew.
He plays year-round to prepare for the regular season. In the winter, Hunter plays indoors whenever possible and participates in clinics during the summer. When asked what his motivation is, Hunter shakes his head and insists there is none.
“I don’t think about that too much,” he said. “It’s what I want to be doing.”
Perhaps most admirable about Hunter is his ability to apply that mentality to the rest of his life. The activities he’s involved in at Rock Bridge include Rock Bridge Reaches Out, Student Coalition and Student Environmental Coalition.
Through Rock Bridge Reaches Out, Hunter volunteers at the food bank in Columbia on Mondays after school in the offseason. The Student Coalition has town hall meetings every quarter, and Hunter said the group’s latest project is trying to eliminate final exams for senior students.
Hunter is also a member of the Junior Leadership program through the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. But during the summer months, he volunteers with the Special Olympics. A tennis and golf instructor, he helps athletes learn the fundamentals in hopes of making it to the state tournament in mid-August.
“Everyone there enjoys it so much. No one forces you to go, it’s just a lot of really nice people who go to have fun,” he said.
Hunter’s favorite subjects in school are writing and U.S. studies. He hopes to pursue a degree in journalism at MU, but he’s not ruling out other options.
“I have family in Wisconsin, so if I go into business or pre-law, I’d go there or maybe to Illinois,” he said.
Although he wants to play tennis at a Division I institution, so far only Division III schools have expressed interest. Hunter plans on creating a video during the season to send, along with his resume, to potential schools.
On his home court, Hunter’s style is almost methodical. When an opponent serves, he is quick to deliver an effortless backhand to catch the Hickman duo off guard. Loeb said Hunter’s growth over the past three seasons has been terrific.
“His ability to hit the ball bigger has improved and he handles adversity well,” Loeb said. “He’s very consistent about how he handles things.”
Clad in a green Bruins shirt and black shorts, Hunter has sweat on his brow after ending his day at Bethel Park. After he shakes hands with the Hickman players, he makes his way to his tennis bag amid applause and cheers from the crowd. Hunter greets his grandparents and others with a warm smile and appreciative demeanor.
A testament to his humility.