JEFFERSON CITY — After their doubles match, Abbey Gober and Chelsea Cross put away their tennis rackets and walked off the court. Cross grabbed a blue sports drink while Gober put on a jacket.
They started to chat about boys and the weather while watching the end of another match. While they talked about their match, this brief conversation was more about catching up than tennis.
But tennis has taken them all the way from Southern Illinois to mid-Missouri.
“We grew up together, and we started playing when I was 10 and she was 12,” Gober said. “We played together on summer leagues and then played together in high school. She left for college, and then I came here for college. It’s pretty neat we’re both here now.”
But Abbey Gober and Chelsea Cross aren’t teammates anymore.
Gober is a freshman at Lincoln University. She moved to Centertown after her sophomore year at Mt. Vernon Township High School and finished her secondary education at Helias Catholic High School. By that time, Cross, now a junior, had graduated from Mt. Vernon and was playing tennis at Rend Lake College, a two-year school in Illinois.
“We kept in touch the whole time,” Gober said.
While Gober was deciding on her scholarship offer from Lincoln, Cross decided she needed a change of scenery. She got in contact with Stephens College's coach Lexie Payne and made the move to Columbia. After Gober committed to Lincoln last year, the two friends would once again play on the same court.
“I didn’t even know until they got here that they knew each other,” Lincoln coach Tim Abney said.
You can pardon Abney’s naïvety about Cross and Gober’s friendship. With school and tennis, the 32 miles between Columbia and Jefferson City grows longer and prevents the two from hanging out as much as they’d like.
“She’s come down (to Jefferson City) a couple times and I’ve gone up (to Columbia) a couple times to visit, but this was the first time we’ve played each other in three years,” Gober said.
The two had known for about a week that there was a good chance they would play against each other during Tuesday's competition between Stephens and Lincoln.
Both had been playing No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles. But the absence of the Stars' top-seeded player and an injury to Grace Pittman during her doubles match with Cross forced Payne to shuffle her lineup, bumping Cross up to No. 1 singles. Cross won 6-1, 6-2 for the Stars' only victory of the day. Lincoln won 8-1 overall.
Despite being disappointed they were unable to play singles against each other, they savored their doubles match.
“It was fun to play someone that I knew before,” Gober said. “If I would’ve lost, I would’ve been still glad I played her.”
While Cross and Pittman lost 8-3, she also enjoyed seeing her friend across the net.
“It’s nice to see someone from back home,” Cross said. “It brings back good memories.”
It’s these childhood memories that brought the two together after their match. Apart from Gober’s navy blue Lincoln jumpsuit, it was impossible to tell that they weren’t teammates, or that they had been apart for so long.
“She’s my best friend and always has been,” Gober said of Cross. “Tennis kind of brought us together and it keeps us together.”
The two weren’t able to talk long, though. Cross had her singles match to play, and because hers was the last match, she had to pack her things and get ready to ride back to Columbia with the rest of her teammates.
The only time they really had to catch up was those few minutes after their doubles match.
“We were trying to catch up in what little time we had,” Cross said.
For that moment, they were reunited.