COLUMBIA — Rock Bridge tennis player John Swift lost his No. 5 singles match against Clayton earlier this month. His teammate Brian Baker fed Swift some positive energy.
"He was the first one to tell me, 'It's fine. We're just going to get this in doubles,'" Swift said.
Swift rebounded from his 6-4, 3-6 (10-1) singles loss with a 6-1, 7-6 (7-2) doubles win as Rock Bridge won 5-4 in one of the Bruins' toughest duals of the season.
Swift and Baker, Rock Bridge's No. 3 singles player, have been two crucial contributors for the Bruins, who begin district playoffs Wednesday — and they've been doing it as freshmen.
The Bruins, who have reached the state semifinals the last 13 seasons, lost four of their top seven players after last year's second-place finish. The team has relied on less experienced players to continue its success.
"They’re really good as freshmen," senior Harry Bozoian said. "Coach said earlier in the year, it’s kind of unusual to have freshmen starting, but they definitely help."
Swift and Baker are far from unfamiliar with Rock Bridge tennis. Swift's brother, Bill, played varsity tennis before graduating last year, and Baker's sister, Allison, is a senior on the girls tennis team.
"They’ve really kind of seen us play before, and they know the intensity that’s required," senior Nate Horvit said. "So it hasn’t been as big of a leap."
Though he is a senior, Horvit is another newcomer of sorts. This is his first year on the varsity roster.
"I know that if I went to some of these other schools we’ve played, I would have played varsity a lot earlier," he said. "So it means a lot more once you finally get on the varsity squad and know that you really earned it."
Though playing on varsity his senior season was the plan for Horvit, no roster position is automatic in such a competitive program. Now that he's earned his spot, he has enjoyed having his wins factor into dual wins.
And there have been plenty of those. Despite the fresh faces, the team has succeeded this year going 14-1 and earning the top seed in the Class 2, District 9 tournament.
Coach Ben Loeb said he is happy with his team's performance, even with the sizable turnover from last season.
"I think we’ve done as well and maybe even possibly a little better than we realistically could’ve expected at the beginning of the season," he said.
"I think we’re in a good spot right now going into districts," Bozoian added.
Though districts are far from the end goal.
"We haven’t lost districts in a long time, so there’s always pressure, especially when these other schools have nothing to lose," Bozoian said. "We kind of have a target on our backs every year."
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