Columbia’s Bethel Park added eight tennis courts in 2002 and serves as the home of Rock Bridge tennis. Four years later, it’s one of the toughest places to play for opposing teams thanks to the senior class of 2005.
With three victories Saturday, Rock Bridge seniors Justin Winner, Kyle Kinderknecht, Matt Dresner, Dennis Smith and Andrew Darkow concluded their regular-season careers at Bethel Park undefeated. Their victories against Lindbergh, Kirkwood and Blue Valley North in the North Central Missouri Invitational improved their home record to 17-0 this season and 45-0 in their careers.
“It’s really amazing if you think about it,” Winner said. “Four years and never losing a match here, it’s really a great accomplishment what we’ve done, and I just hope that the guys next year can keep it going. All five of us seniors have just been great.”
The seniors showed poise, pulling out close matches all afternoon. The Bruins beat Kirkwood 9-2. The teams could meet again in the state semifinals on May 26-28 in Springfield.
Kinderknecht defeated Matt Waite in a second-set tiebreaker at No. 2 singles 9-8 (2).
After the victory, the Bruins faced Blue Valley North. The Mustangs came out strong, taking early leads in each of the top four matches. Kinderknecht and Dresner bounced back from 4-3 deficits. Kinderknecht knocked off Hank Lee, and Dresner beat Adam Liebenthal, both by 8-6 scores.
“I knew Blue Valley North would be good,” Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb said. “You come off a big dual with Kirkwood given that if we win our section and they win theirs, we would play each other in the Final Four. We just couldn’t afford to let up in any way against a team that’s as good as Blue Valley North. I don’t think we really let up. I think the other team just played well, and they had us in a vulnerable position. But to the credit of several of our players, they found a way to get out of it.”
Winner couldn’t get out of his singles contests with a win, however. He dropped all three of his matches at No. 1 singles by a combined 24-6 margin. His day got even worse when he was nailed in the back of the head on a serve by Dresner in their No. 1 doubles match against Kirkwood.
“It still hurts, but I was able to shake it off,” Winner said. “I took some Advil, and now I’ve got to get ready for prom. I was really angry right afterwards because it hit me right square in the head. I was just like, ‘Thanks man, it’s not what I needed.’ But we played some great doubles today and got some wins. Singles was really tough.”
While Loeb said he thought depth played a huge part in the Bruins victorious afternoon, he said the day belonged to his seniors.
“Our seniors have been fantastic,” Loeb said. “They’ve meant so much to me as people and for what they’ve brought to our team. They bring so much leadership and competitiveness, and I think they set a good example for the other kids on the team. They came up big as a group today.”
With the accomplishments behind them, the Bruins now gear up for the district meet Tuesday and sectionals on Saturday.
“Today was the biggest test of the season,” Kinderknecht said. “It was a long day, and the matches were tough. We played three great teams, and every single match was close. It feels good to survive, and it gives us confidence going into the postseason.”