COLUMBIA — The Rock Bridge girls tennis team was one match away from perfection.
The Bruins' perfect season came to an end with a loss to Lee’s Summit North in the state championship match on Thursday.
The Bruins began the day facing St. Joseph's Academy. The two teams have met 10 times in the final four since 1999. Seven of those matchups took place in the state championship match. Last season, the teams met again in the championship match, where St. Joseph's defeated the Bruins 5-1.
This year was a different story.
Rock Bridge beat St. Joseph's 5-4 in a 9 a.m. Class 2 semifinal. Coach Ben Loeb said junior Phoebe Boeschen's match against freshman Caroline Pozo was a critical win for the Bruins. At the time of Boeschen's win, Rock Bridge was down 3-1. Boeschen and sophomore Tess Lovig both won their singles matches to even the score before the three doubles matches.
"It was one that if we played well and believed in ourselves, we thought we would have a legitimate chance to win it," Loeb said. "We played our best dual meet of the season. That was very gratifying, to have that type of performance in a state semifinal against a team of their caliber."
Boeschen, Lovig and sophomore Hannah Pohl each won their singles matches, and two doubles duos — Allison Baker and Lovig, and Sophi Farid and Boeschen — won their matches.
Following the 9 a.m. win Thursday, the Bruins headed into the championship with a perfect 26-0 record on the season. The team then prepared to face Lee's Summit North at 1 p.m. in the state championship.
After the championship singles matches, Rock Bridge was down 4-2.
"We had our chances in the singles to be in a better position than we were," Loeb said. "We just couldn’t quite close out a couple matches ... and that left us vulnerable going into doubles."
Loeb said that with a deficit of 4-2, "it was just a big hole" to climb out of.
"I think we felt that we had beat the toughest team in the tournament," Loeb said. "I still feel like we did, but it's hard to sustain that performance level in the same day. But that’s the way we do it in high school tennis."
Loeb, who has been coaching both boys and girls tennis at Rock Bridge for 19 years, is no stranger to state title matches. In 2012, the veteran coach had a perfect season in both boys and girls tennis, combining for a 50-0 dual record and two state titles.
Loeb also coached the 1994 Hickman boys team to a state title.
Loeb holds a total of nine titles at Rock Bridge. The Rock Bridge girls won state titles in the 1999-2000, 2002-03, 2003-04, 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. Including those five titles, the girls have appeared in eight championship tournaments since 2002. The boys have taken home four state titles since 2002.
Loeb said that despite the team's loss, he is happy with what they have achieved.
"I am really proud of the girls and what we accomplished today and throughout the season," Loeb said. "Obviously we wish we could have finished off the second dual (the three doubles matches) with a team win, but we had to play two very strong opponents today."
With the team competition over, four Bruins will continue to compete in doubles matches this weekend. Farid and Boeschen, who are the reigning doubles state champions, and Baker and Pohl will begin state doubles play Friday.
Loeb said although the team is disappointed with Thursday's loss, he is confident they will continue to look forward to this weekend and beyond.
"In our sport, given the nature of it — with the team competition, two duals in the same day and then the individual tournament starts the very next day — you have no choice but to be resilient," Loeb said.
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