With the game tied at 30-all, Hickman’s No. 1 singles player Katie Glenn took a backswing, ready to put away a shot that would even the second set at five games apiece.
But what was intended to sound like a solid shot hit off the sweet spot of the racket was instead the shrill sound of a popped string. Glenn lost the point, and soon after, the match.
Whether it was a broken string, balls dribbling over the net cord, or simply being overmatched, nothing seemed to go the Kewpies’ way as they were defeated 9-0 by Rock Bridge on Tuesday.
“It’s tough to play your first match of the season against a seasoned team like Rock Bridge,” Hickman coach Jerry Price said.
Led by a 6-1, 6-4 victory at No. 1 singles by Karla Kruse, the Bruins cruised to their second victory in as many matches. Kruse faced a strong player in Glenn, but was able to execute her game plan to perfection.
“I knew she was going to get a lot of balls back and hit with a lot of spin,” Kruse said. “I need to move the ball around a lot and be prepared to hit a lot of balls back, and I felt comfortable with the way I did that today.”
After droppiong a total of nine games in their season opener last week against St. Joseph Central, the Bruins lost 16 in their first home match of the season. But with a glaring sun and temperatures in the upper 80, water bottles and sunscreen became as important as rackets on the court.
“We practice a lot during the summer to prepare ourselves for the heat,” Kruse said. “We just have to make sure to drink a lot of water on a day like today.”
The heat seemed to slightly affect the Bruins’ Allison Wulff at No. 5, whose slumping body language and rose-colored face seemed to indicate exhaustion. After Wulff won 6-4 in a rocky first set, Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb approached her saying, “You can do it. Trust yourself. Controlled breathing.” The pep talk seemed to work. Wulff went on to win the next six games.
Though Loeb was encouraged by the play of his younger and less-experienced players, he was most impressed with veteran players Kruse and Ashley Miles.
“I thought Karla in singles and Ashley and Karla in doubles looked particularly good,” Loeb said. “Katie (Glenn) is a very good player, but Karla played a very good match today.”
Price hopes that his Hickman team can take the experience of playing a team with as much success and depth as Rock Bridge and use it as an assessment of what can be improved as the season gets underway.
“When you play against a team like Rock Bridge, it’s tough,” Price said. “You want to see our girls get this under their belt. Then it gets them in the routine.”
The Kewpies play Thursday against Mexico before the Great 8 Tournament starts this weekend. The tournament, hosted by Rock Bridge, will begin at 11 a.m. Friday, with the finals Saturday morning at 8:30.
Although Price is reluctant to set particular goals and expectations for his team this season, he is excited to be working with an athletic group of girls who possess great potential for improvement.
“Certainly you can’t let the score indicate a success or failure when you play a team like Rock Bridge,” Price said. “We just need to continue to strive to improve our skills.”