SPRINGFIELD, Mo. –- About an hour into Rock Bridge’s state-championship match with Rockhurst, a fan asked Bruins coach Ben Loeb how his team was faring.
Loeb looked at the fan for a second, cracked a smile and turned away. It wasn’t going well for the Bruins.
An hour later, the Hawklets were celebrating their ninth consecutive state tennis championship after defeating Rock Bridge 5-0 at the Cooper Tennis Complex, but Loeb was all smiles after the meet. Playing in the championship match succeeded his team’s expectations, he said, and the season ended on a high note despite the loss.
“Our first goal was to make the final four,” he said. “Our second goal was if we get there, to find a way to finish second. I thought our guys gave a great effort, but the obstacles were just a little too much today.”
Not so earlier in the day, when the Bruins defeated Chaminade 5-0, with every win coming in straight sets in the semifinal round.
Loeb said he sees the team’s win against the Red Devils as proof that the season was successful. As for Rockhurst, he said it’s like playing on a different level.
“We were just up against a lot,” he said. “The guys on Rockhurst just have so much experience, so much Missouri Valley experience, so much prior tennis experience. They’re really a fine team, and it takes a lot to be on the same level as them, let alone beat them.”
Rockhurst coach Ron Geldhof, who is in his 31st year at the school and has won 12 state titles, said he was as excited as the first time he won a championship. That was in 1975, the eighth year of the state tennis tournaments.
“Every year you have a new team to work with, competition is different and everything’s different. … You never know how things will work out,” he said.
The season continues today for three Bruins. Jon-Eric Meyer will compete in singles, and Matt Desner and Justin Winner will play doubles.
Meyer, the Bruins’ No. 1 singles player, said he is eager to start the singles round. In the semifinal, he was losing to Chaminade’s Taylor St. Eve, who overcame an erratic start and began finding his shots halfway through the first set, 6-3, 5-2 when the Bruins won their fifth match, which meant Meyer and St. Eve didn’t finish their match.
In the final, Rockhurst’s Malcolm Harrison used his power game to have Meyer running back and forth in the first set. Meyer seemed to calm down and improve a bit in the second set, but Harrison won 6-0, 6-3.
“I got off on a slow start,” Meyer said. “He came out and shocked me, but as the game went on, I got into a rhythm and a tempo and got things together.”
Kyle Kinderknecht, who plays No. 4 singles, had the Bruins’ best chance at a victory in the final, but his match with Pat Cohen ended abruptly when the Hawklets earned their fifth win. After falling behind 4-0 in the first set, Kinderknecht rallied to force a tiebreaker and then won the first set with a 7-1 tiebreaker.
He was leading 3-1 in the second set when the match was called. After the fourth game of the match, Kinderknecht apparently figured out how to beat Cohen.
Cohen dominated the first four games with powerful strokes in front of the baseline. Kinderknecht began to hit patiently near the baseline while Cohen would try to muscle the ball over the net each time. Soon, Cohen appeared to tire and his shooting became more erratic and caused him to hit into the net and out of bounds frequently. Kinderknecht said he realized it was a pace Cohen couldn’t keep up forever.
“In the first four games, he was on fire,” Kinderknecht said. “I kind of realized he couldn’t do that the whole match.”
Loeb said he was impressed with the play of Stefan Nosic, a freshman who won three games in both sets despite the loss, because he didn’t get nervous at the thought of playing a team with a history such as Rockhurst’s. It’s a history, Loeb joked, that should make sure the Hawklets contend for a 10th consecutive title.
“When they graduate after next year, maybe then it’ll be a little better situation to deal with,” he said.