COLUMBIA — The Rock Bridge boys tennis team is taking a positive mental approach to the upcoming Class 2 state tournament.
The Bruins are no stranger to this preparation. This is the ninth consecutive year they’ve geared up for postseason play. This is also the fourth year in a row that the same four teams have advanced to the semifinals.
“We have our sights set on going all the way,” Bruins coach Ben Loeb said.. “As long as we play well, we can contend with anybody and our goal is achievable.”
Rock Bridge will face Parkway Central in the semifinals on Thursday morning at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield, Mo. The Bruins defeated Parkway Central during the regular season.
While Parkway Central projects to be a tough dual meet, Loeb fears the team to beat in the final four is Rockhurst. In 2008, the Bruins beat Rockhurst 5-4 to win the state title, but were defeated by the the Hawklets by the same score last year. Rockhurst faces Kirkwood in its semifinal match Thursday.
Loeb said most years there is just a narrow difference between winning and losing, and the solution to closing this gap is by learning how to be something he calls “smart aggressive.”
“In the regular season, it’s OK to rally the ball, but in the offseason, the key is to be offensive,” he said. “To be ‘smart aggressive,’ some players had to up it and increase ball speed, while some had to tone it down. It’s more about when to go for the shot.”
The real training for the Bruins, however, comes from the psychological side of competing, according to Loeb.
“We’ve talked about what it takes to be a tough competitor," Loeb said. "We’ve got to focus on having a plan during the point and between points on how to compete and how to think.”
This season Loeb is focusing more on this mental aspect through positive talk and instructing his team to embrace the competitive challenge.
“In the end, you have to be a tough competitor," Loeb said. "There were times in the sectional finals we had to have guys step up to play smarter and compete better. We’re certainly going to need that come Thursday. The obstacles will be harder.”
This mindset is a more positive and competitive one that Loeb hopes will exude confidence in his players.
“Part of being successful is picturing yourself being successful," Loeb said. "We just have to go into it expecting to do well, and then we’ll have a legitimate chance to make something special happen.”