Rock Bridge tennis coach Ben Loeb knows how to inspire his players.
Winning has become routine for Loeb. After 15 years coaching boys and girls teams at Rock Bridge and Hickman, Loeb has the second most wins in the state at 408. North Kansas City coach Arthur Loepp, who has been coaching since 1975, has 468. Loeb has qualified 10 teams to the state tournament, and three have won state titles.
The Bruins girls team (17-1) will play in its fifth straight state semifinals at 9 a.m. today against Incarnate Word Academy (11-3) at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield. If they win, they will meet St. Joseph’s Academy (9-0) or St. Teresa’s Academy (19-1) at 1 p.m. in the final.
Rock Bridge defeated St. Teresa’s 5-2 in last year’s semifinal round and went on to beat St. Joseph 5-4 for the championship.
This season, Rock Bridge lost 8-1 to St. Joseph’s on Sept. 6 in the Great 8 Tournament.
“It’s an exciting opportunity to think that we can be the first high school in state history to lose 8-1 in the season and come back to win a state title against that team,” Loeb said.
Loeb’s biggest comeback was in 1994 when he was coaching the Hickman boys team. The Kewpies lost to Ladue Horton Watkins 6-3 during the regular season and defeated it in the state finals 5-3.
Kara Hickey, the Bruins top player this season, said Loeb is always searching for ways to inspire the team. He attends conferences, reads books and listens to tapes on motivation, she said.
Loeb tells the girls to visualize their matches for five or 10 minutes every night and creates laminated cards with motivational phrases.
“Visualization works,” said Ashley Miles, the Bruins No. 5 singles player. “It helps especially if you are stressed out.”
Loeb also likes to make sure his players aren’t intimidated by top-level play. He encourages his underclassmen to attend varsity matches and has them play varsity when possible.
Junior Sarah Seltsam is new to the varsity team but attended the state finals in 2002. She said it helped to calm her nerves entering this season.
“It was nice to see it and experience it and now I can actually contribute,” Seltsam said.
Sports psychologist James Loehr told Loeb that the better teams develop in packs. The players push each other to improve, Loeb said.
Hickey and Whitney Reys took their first tennis lesson together at 7 from former MU coach, Ron Sterchi.
“Growing up with other tennis players also helped,” said Keith Hickey, Kara Hickey’s father. “At that age level it’s easier to do things in groups.”
Keith Hickey regularly plays tennis with Kara Hickey and Bob Reys, Whitney Reys’ father, contributes to the team as the Bruins’ assistant coach. Keith Hickey played tennis at MU from 1973-1975 and Bob Reys played for Central Missouri State from 1959-1962. They said they introduced their children to tennis at a young age and the children excelled.