Rock Bridge junior Daniel Ni has only been playing tennis on a regular basis since summer 2005. Many of his teammates have been playing since they were 3.
Ni and seven other members of the Rock Bridge boys tennis team will compete in their sixth consecutive final four today in Springfield. The Bruins play Parkway Central at 9 a.m. in the Class 2 semifinals. If they win, they will face either Rockhurst or Kirkwood in the state finals at 1 p.m.
Senior Senan Yasar said he is excited for Ni.
“He only started playing recently,” Yasar said, “and he can play with almost any of us. … It’s pretty amazing.”
“Before in sixth or seventh grade, I just did a few clinics and I wasn’t any good,” Ni said. “I just kind of picked it up and got into it.”
His coaches are impressed.
“Athleticism, competitiveness and his work ethic — that’s what makes him so good,” said Ben Loeb, Rock Bridge boys tennis coach. “At the beginning of the season, he was not nearly as good or as strong.”
Rustin Reys, assistant coach and student teacher at Rock Bridge, said intelligence helps Ni, too.
“He is such a smart player,” Reys said. “He doesn’t have to play his A-game, because he just knows how it’s done.”
Reys said Ni just has something in him and being an athlete comes naturally. Reys said Ni is also good at school, especially math, the subject Reys teaches.
“He’s not in my class, but I know he’s good,” he said. “He has pure tenacity, and he won’t give into anything, academic or athletic.”
Ni said he can’t afford to goof off.
“I just have to balance it all, school and practice,” Ni said. “I just learn to manage my time. I don’t put one in front of the other.”
If Rock Bridge defeats Parkway Central, Ni will play two doubles matches and two singles matches today. He said it will get very tiring, not only mentally but physically as well.
“I guess I’ll just have to win fast,” Ni said.
Ni has faced competitors from both Rockhurst and Kirkwood.
“I have played them before and, yes, they are good, but I just want to have fun,” Ni said. “I have won one and lost one, so I’ll have to see.”
This is the sixth consecutive year that Loeb has led the boys into the final four.
“Coach Loeb is great. Almost all the credit should go to him,” Ni said. “He does it over and over again every year with new guys all the time.
“I am just looking forward to Thursday,” Loeb said. “It will be a challenge, but I’m looking forward to it.”