A great team isn’t usually founded on talent alone.
On Tuesday night, the Rock Bridge High School boys’ tennis team (3-0) showed its strength lies in its depth and ability to deal with adversity.
Without senior Justin Winner, the Bruins’ No. 1 in individual competition, Rock Bridge showed no signs of weakness, defeating Jefferson City 9-0. In his place, senior Kyle Kinderknecht defeated the Jays’ Josh Roling 6-3, 6-4.
“I like the way Kyle played against a tough opponent,” Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb said. “Our strength is our depth, but up top, I think we have a couple of players that can step up and play No. 1 singles without question.”
Trailing 3-2 and 4-3 during the second set, Kinderknecht had a series of terrific shots that seemed to unravel Roling. A beautiful shot that nicked the left out of bounds line, followed by an emphatic slam down the right line, swung the momentum in Kinderknecht’s favor. Pumping his fist and screaming, “Let’s go,” Kinderknecht came right back and twisted Roling like a rubber band with a well-placed shot to Roling’s left as Roling made a hard cut to his right.
“I thought I played real well,” Kinderknecht said. “My main thing is just staying aggressive. When I’m playing so aggressive, that’s when I play my best. When I get a little tentative, I get in trouble.”
Winner was still able to compete in doubles action because there is less cutting and horizontal movement on the swollen tendon in his right ankle. One of the top doubles teams in the state, Winner and senior Matt Dresner were able to knock off Josh and Zach Roling 6-2, 7-6 (6).
“I’ve seen them play better,” Loeb said. “But Jeff City has such great athletes, and the Roling brothers hung in there and kept balls in play and came up with some big shots. They made us pay for our mistakes. For our guys to come back down from 5-2 in the tiebreaker is a real credit to them.”
While Winner was held to doubles competition on Tuesday, he said that his ankle felt well enough to play individually. However, his coach had a different opinion and isn’t quite sure if Winner will be ready to go for Thursday’s meet at Hickman.
“I don’t know, that’s a really good question, and I don’t know,” Loeb said. “The way he was moving around out here in the doubles match, I have some concern. It’s day-to-day with him right now.”
If the Bruins continue to get quality play throughout their entire lineup, there is no need to rush Winner back. The Bruins want to make sure that his ankle doesn’t take a step in the wrong direction and that it continues to move towards 100 percent, regardless of the fact that the Bruins take on their rivals Thursday.
“It should be a good meet,” Loeb said. “They’re very tough up top, so we’ll have our hands full there. But we’ve got strong players, too, that will make for some great matches. If our depth shows up and plays real well, we have an advantage there. Then again, it is Rock Bridge-Hickman, and strange things can happen.”