From sideline to sideline, baseline to the net, the tennis player is alone covering the court. Professional tennis is as much of an individual sport as there is.
Not so in high school.
“Our mentality here is team first,” Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb said. “We all want to win a team title very badly … There’s something special about a team accomplishing great things. I think that’s a tribute to the girls that we emphasize team performance first and individual performance second.
“I’ve never seen a girl be really down a long time after their match if they lost and the team won. If our team wins, everybody can feel good about that.”
This weekend the Bruins travel to Joplin for the state sectional and quarterfinal rounds Saturday.
Chasing a third consecutive state championship isn’t the only grand accomplishment for Rock Bridge to focus on.
After rain washed out Tuesday’s dual with Springfield, Ill., the Bruins enter sectional play with a 23-0 record. A 24th win would set a new school record, breaking the 23-2 mark set in 2002.
“That would be absolutely amazing to reset the record,” Sarah Seltsam said. “To have that final win for my senior season would be awesome.”
Rock Bridge, which won the District 5 tournament, will go for the record against Kickapoo, which finished second in the District 6 tournament. If Rock Bridge wins, it would play the winner of the Jefferson City and Joplin match Saturday afternoon.
The Bruins have played each of these teams this year, defeating each 9-0.
“Personally it gives me some confidence just to know that we’ve played them before,” Seltsam said. “We’ve kind of checked them out; we just have to go and do the same thing we did earlier in the season.”
Said Kara Hickey: “It gives us a lot of confidence because we’ve done it before so we know can do it again, but then again we have to be careful not to get too confident.
“We’ve learned from experience that you can lose bad but come back and win. Anything can happen, so we’re just going to stay really focused, and play tough.”
Loeb, aware of his team’s success against their opponents, said he is concerned about his team losing focus.
“The big thing that I want to see is that we play well,” he said. “If we’re looking ahead we normally don’t play as well. If we play well I think the outcome will take care of itself, and that would put us in a better position to feel better about things advancing beyond Saturday.”
After Saturday, there is only one more week of tennis to be played, and one more goal: the state tournament. With every match potentially being their last, the Bruins will have to have an undefeated season to win it all, something else they haven’t done.
“Usually we just focus on winning state, but it’s just an added plus,” Hickey said. “It’s an achievement that we’ve never had in our history. That would be really awesome.”
Said Seltsam: “It would be that much more sweet to be undefeated.”
While Loeb attempts to keep his team’s sights on each match as it comes, he too says that another championship creeps into his mind.
“Hopefully we can achieve more in the next couple weeks,” Loeb said. “If we can break the (wins) record, that’s great. If we can go undefeated this year, that’s great. But winning a state title is the greatest.”