Rock Bridge players began wandering onto Bethel Park’s tennis courts well before their last practice before today’s state semifinal match against Rockhurst.
The atmosphere was relaxed, even though they would soon be playing the 10-time defending state champions. A few players sat in the shade bouncing a tennis ball, another sat swatting a bee with his tennis racket.
At 3:15 p.m., senior Scott Harf took off his shirt and made the announcement to start practicing. A repetitive beginning to every practice, only this time they would practice shirtless to celebrate their accomplishments this season.
“We had a few saved in the bank,” Harf said.
Rock Bridge has reached their fifth consecutive semifinal appearance undefeated (22-0). They will face Rockhurst at the Cooper Tennis Complex at 9 a.m. today in Springfield.
“You’re hitting those like you believe what you’re doing,” Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb said to his players after he arrived about 15 minutes later. “Both teams have shown great progress.”
Rockhurst has no returning varsity players.
“We’ve been extremely fortunate...just making it back to the final four is the best accomplishment.” Rockhurst coach Ron Gelddhof said.
These teams last met in 2004 in the Class 2 state championship. Rockhurst won 5-0.
“They had superstars,” Loeb said. “They were excellent players, and we couldn’t keep up with their ball speed. It’s like playing football against a team that is bigger than you.”
Rock Bridge will be graduating five seniors this year and four of them are competing on the varsity level for the first time.
“We look forward to getting up there and seeing what we can do,” senior Eric Sterchi said.
Rock Bridge players attribute their success to Loeb, who has reached 500 career wins this season.
“He always goes above and beyond,” Harf said.
The winner of the Rock Bridge and Rockhurst match will play the winner of the Chaminade and St. Louis University High School match in the finals, which follow at approximately 1 p.m.